August 7, 2019 Is That You? (Movie Review)
When her father goes missing, a young girl will stop at nothing to find him in Is That You?, a new Psychological Horror offering. Quite possibly the first Horror film made in Cuba, Breaking Glass Pictures delivers the film to VOD and DVD on Tuesday, August 13th, 2019.
From the very beginning of this story, it is obvious that not everyone is going to survive the de la Rosa’s troubled marriage. Domineering Eduardo (Osvaldo Doimeadiós: Los hombres que la amaron series, Lisanka 2010), a shoe repairman, is an abusive alcoholic, while meak Alina (Lynn Cruz: La pared 2006, Larga distancia 2010) is quite literally a tethered shut-in. Perhaps worst of all is the toll that their disturbing home life has taken on their teenage daughter, Lili (Gabriela Ramos: Últimos días en La Habana 2016), a daddy’s girl with some idol worship issues.
With the family’s tense situation escalating, and the curious involvement of Eduardo’s employee Carlos (Jorge Enrique Caballero: Kangamba 2009, 7 Days in Havana 2012) becoming more apparent, Eduardo simply disappears. Thirteen-year-old Lili, already emotionally fragile, is understandably distraught. Unprepared to handle her beloved father’s disappearance, thanks to a chance encounter she enlists the help of kindly local woman Caridad (Eslinda Núñez: Vsadnik bez golovy 1973, Juan of the Dead 2011), who practices santería.
As disturbing truths begin to rise toward the surface, the tension between mother and daughter will mount to a supernatural level. Clocking in at 107 minutes, Is That You?—¿Eres Tú, Papá? in its original Spanish title—marks the feature length debut of award-winning Writer-Director Rudy Riverón Sánchez (Beyond Reach short 2009). Shot in the Cuban countryside and billed as Psychological Horror, the film fits this billing as well as the more generic Horror-Thriller categorization.
Presented in Spanish with English subtitles, Is That You? made its world premiere at the Oldenburg International Film Festival in Germany, and has gone on to win several prestigious awards and appear at a slew of international film festivals, including Miami (MIFF), the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival in South Korea, the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, and the Richmond International Film Festival.
So, is this award-winner worthwhile? Well, yes. Is That You? is an exceptionally well-done film, from the moody cinematography of Raúl Pérez Ureta (Madrigal 2007, Últimos días en La Habana 2016) to its tension-packed score by Composers Owain Kelly and James Williams. Truthfully, the only flaws we can find in the film are two things that are easily fixed: the actors’ conversations are often too low in the audio mix (which is not an issue if you’re reading the subtitles), and that 107 minute run-time might be a bit challenging for some viewers.
Simply put, Is That You? is a slow burner, thick with tension and moody atmosphere, desaturated neutrals, and a story that chugs along at a languid pace. If you opt to consider the film a Horror movie, then it must be noted that this is no low-brow blockbuster that lays it all on the line within the first twenty minutes; rather, this is a screenplay full of subtleties and metaphor that reaches a conclusion that is open to interpretation.
Whatever you ultimately decide, it is the exceptional cast that get you there. Doimeadiós perfectly portrays the bizarre dichotomy of the soft-spoken yet controlling Eduardo. Though the character is clearly apathetic to life and wholly abusive, Doimeadiós’ performance rounds Eduardo out, making him more than just a simple, cut and dry trope. Similarly, Cruz’s Alina carries a haunting weight upon her entire demeanor in each of her scenes, black circle lounging beneath her eyes. With her ankles tethered together, padlocked into her home, Cruz presents the epitome of an abuse victim who has somehow maintained her facade for the sake of her child.
As the kindly Carlos, Caballero also gives a stellar performance. There’s something haunting in his soulful eyes throughout his entire delivery that makes his character both compelling and sympathetic, despite his important role in the events that unravel. However, it is young Ramos who steals the show here. In fact, it’s easy to see how she was awarded the Seymour Cassel Award for Outstanding Performance at the Oldenburg International Film Fest. Lili is the picture of an apathetic teen: torn between what is right and wrong, her mother and father, but never show a single emotion. Ramos maintains a stony face throughout the entirety of the film, no easy feat, and offers up a character who is truly haunting in her disguised fragility.
Ultimately, you will have to ask yourself: is this the story of a girl who loses her father and manages to resurrect his ghost, or is this a tale of a deeply scarred teen whose delicate psyche is tipped into the abyss with the loss of her beloved father? Digging even further, could this be an allegorical tale aimed at the struggles Cubans face in 2019? Whatever the case, the decision is left up to you to decide and for that, Is That You? succeeds where many others fail.
An intelligently crafted film full of moody visuals and with an exceptional screenplay and cast, Is That You? is certain to put Cuba and Director Sánchez on the Horror map. For this, Cryptic Rock give Is That You? 4.5 of 5 stars.