Fantasia Film Festival 2021: On The 3rd Day (2021)

On the 3rd Day (Al Tercer Día, 2021)

Director: Daniel De La Vega

Cast: Mariana Anghileri, Diego Cremonesi, Lautaro Delgado Tymruk, Osmar Nunez, Gerardo Romano, Osvaldo Santoro

Cecilia and her son Martín have a car accident. On the third day after the crash, she wanders by herself on a lonely route and there is no clue of her son. She can’t remember what happened during this time and she is desperately looking for her son. On her quest she finds coincidences with her case and other police files, which seem to be acts of a brutal hunting. The circles goes round and Cecilia will end up facing a religious man, who is the responsible of this slaughter. For her, he is a lunatic. For him, Cecilia is the enemy. – IMDB

On The 3rd Day is an Argentinian fantasy horror thriller that tells the story of a mother who reappears three days after an accident with no memory of what happened during that time and sets off to find her missing son. Argentinian horror is definitely on an up at the festival especially with last year’s The Funeral Home (review) recently landing on Shudder. The credit for its plot is greatly towards its creativity and execution. For many who frequent here, my greatest issue with thrillers (which I do love to watch) is with execution as the whole mystery needs to be paced really well to make the final end game or plot twist land effectively and logically. On that level, On The 3rd Day does a fantastic job.

At first glance, its easy to feel a little bit of “been there done that” in its first act whether its an accident or amnesia or even the creepy sort of hospital moments right down to the overuse of sound cues to create this sense of constant suspense and tension which tends to overstay its welcome fairly quickly. However, the film has some great visual elements that also build up the environment and atmosphere whether from the mysterious things that the main character, Cecilia starts seeing around her. At the same time, there’s an incredible use of symmetry in its cinematography which is greatly accented by the emphasis on mirrors. In certain scenes, through doorways and such, it almost feels like there’s a reflection of the room (although I’m not quite sure if that’s deliberate or not). It does create some uneasiness although in one scene (and I’m slightly nitpicking), where the cars park facing each other on the street which is a bit contradictory to the dialogue between two character from the previous scene. Little details, of course.

The story isn’t just about the mother and child but also has a parallel storyline which shows the other person that was part of the accident who seem to have a secret task where he is carrying a wooden box or casket around and does these very odd sort of rituals playing almost like there’s something that he is trying to hide. This part of the story line starts building up the mystery more as the horror elements start expanding into a possibility of the other subgenres that could be involved and what the box holds that makes this character so on edge but builds up on the unknown of what his goal is, which only starts having answers as the two plotlines converges in the final act.

It might sound like I’m being incredibly obscure with the plot here however its reasonably done. While On The 3rd Day does a lot of things right especially with cinematography and plot lines, what makes this film stand out is the well-executed ending that truly does pack a wonderful punch that wraps up all the mystery and suspense and is truly thrilling to watch unfold as the pieces fall in place. There’s a lot to love here especially as it touches on a biblical interpretation of resurrection but also uses that element in such a clever way. As a final note, remember to watch through the credits as there is an after credits scene.

FNC 2020: Mamà, Mamà, Mamà (2020)

Mamà, Mamà, Mamà (2020)

Director (and writer): Sol Berruezo Pichon-Riviere

Cast: Agustina Milstein, Chloé Cherchyk, Camila Zolezzi, Matilde Creimer Chiabrando, Siumara Castillo, Vera Fogwill, Jennifer Moule, Shirley Giménez, Ana Maria Monti, Florencia Gonzalez Rogriguez

A veil of sadness lies over the oppressively hot summer days. Cleo dives into daydreams with her cousins, the girls share secret signs and rituals. Flowing gently, in impressionistic images, the empty space that the death of Cleo’s sister has left in the family is poetically encircled. – IMDB

After doing an entire season of Movies and Tea Podcast on Sofia Coppola, the description comparing it to The Virgin Suicides is essentially what sold this Argentinian drama as one of my top must-see picks for this year’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema. Running at a short 65 minutes, Mamà Mamà Mamà is definitely comparable to Sofia Coppola’s films. For one, it has the slice of life storyline about a young girl Cleo dealing with the loss of her younger sister Erin in the days that follow under the companionship of her cousins and the care of her aunt while observing at a distance her mother’s pain from this ordeal. The family of girls and women all sit together through rituals and little games and everyday things while all coping in their own way. Grief is different for everyone and yet as Cleo goes through her own changes while dealing with it along with the neglect from her mother who is grieving immensely on her own with the comfort of her own sister, she stews in her memories of her sister by herself while watching and participating as her cousins all go through their own fun summer hobbies without a care in the world while sharing secret rituals and daydreams.

The cinematography and execution of this film is what truly gives it that arthouse spin but also adding in a tone with a dull palette of colors dimmed and subtle. There’s a gloom over each scene whether its the quiet times when all the girls are sitting together doing their own thing or when Cleo’s mother has her crying outbursts with the different triggers. And yet, one of the deeper bits is when Cleo falls into her little memories of her sister and even reliving the moments of her death as the camera is off-centred with moving parts of her sister’s lifeless arms or her mother’s body swimming across the screen. It all pieces together what happens. At the same time, the movie starts off with a recording that is a conversation with Erin and a few of these recordings happens as Erin’s asked about death and fear where it seems like Cleo dreams up Erin in an imaginary world by herself while putting those scenes in between her memories of her time with her sister in each other’s companionship. These moments might seem mundane and yet it adds a lot of depth to what Cleo is going through in her own mind and perhaps the loneliness she feels despite having her cousins around even if they all have their way of caring for her and offering her another type of companionship.

There’s something really special about Mamà Mamà Mamà where these few days spent with this cast consisting solely of the ladies and girls of this family. Everyone knows what’s going on and yet every cousin at their different age has their own understanding of it and whether its the aunt or Cleo’s mom or the mother’s mom all end up in this space as the adults help each other grieve while the children have their own way of transitioning through it and yet its a little heartbreaking are the little moments when Cleo calls out to her unresponsive mother who is the one person that truly will understand each other’s loss the most and yet its also surprisingly sweet to see her cousins, each of them in the first scenes doing their own things but each slowly bonding with Cleo in their own way and helping her forget a little about what’s going on. Everything might be through the eyes of Cleo in this story and yet every character has their own space and purpose as they build their own connection.

What might seem like a grim story about grieving about the loss of a sister actually turns out to be a rather bittersweet experience. Mother and Cleo both are in their own sorrow and yet, everyone staying with them helps breath life back into this space. As a directorial debut for a young female director Sol Berruezo Pichon-Riviere, it does definitely feel like a piece delivers a lot of depth for the story that its trying to tell and an impressive bit of writing and execution and leaves her a director to look out for.

Fantasia Festival 2020: The Undertaker’s Home (La Funeraria, 2020)

The Undertaker’s Home (La Funeraria, 2020)

The Undertaker's Home

Director (and writer): Mauro Ivan Ojeda

Cast: Luis Machin, Celeste Gerez, Camila Vaccarini, Susana Varela, Huga Arana

Set in a funeral home where the undertaker Bernardo (Luis Machin), his wife Estrella (Celeste Gerez) and stepdaughter Irina (Camila Vaccarini) live, The Undertaker’s Home sets up in a world where they reside with the presence of the spirits that have been gone. They live with rules set to not cross certain lines and not go to their haunted bathroom and spirits communicating in whatever means with them. What starts out as just rules to follow that create inconvenience eventually becomes much more serious as they realize they aren’t just living with spirits but there is a demon invading their home that is making the situation more dire.

The Undertaker’s Home has a few good points. For one, it keeps a simple equation of using the one setting. Luckily, the setting has fairly extended grounds with their main living quarters and the room, the funeral hall in the next building and the outside grounds which is where they have a port-a-potty. Right off the bat, the movie’s opening scene sets the tone right from the get-go with the music being a big part of the eerie element to build the atmosphere and the camera navigating throughout the setting to place where everyone is and the little hints of things to be unveiled as the story develops.

Second, the premise is rather unique. Having spirits among the living is something that most horror movies have as a background but to have people living consciously with spirits making the first half of the film fairly strong as its unique to see them encounter these and then also see how they have learned to ignore and cope with it. We never see the spirits or demon fully revealed, which is something that leaves a lot to the imagination and it helps that the cinematography focuses on the characters reactions whether than show their point of view which leaves some space for the viewer’s imagination to stew.

Third, the characters are rather good as well. There is sufficient amount of conflict and through their arguments and conversations, you can find the family dynamic. It drops a few hints as to a lot of their family issues and drama. Each of these characters, especially that of Bernardo is rather odd. They have their own little secrets. Bernardo’s character is one odd character and becomes more and more unsettling to watch as the story unravels.

The deal with The Undertaker’s Home is that, a lot of its merit comes from the beginning part and the whole setup of the film in the first part. There are some tense moments in the final act but the story seems to lose a little bit of its direction. As it brings in the demon plot, things start taking a more normal horror film path. At the same time, something to note about the film overall is that the first act sets out straight away that most of the fear and unsettled atmosphere is created by its looming, crescendo and strong music direction that blends in some sound effects to make it especially eerie and easy to get under the audience’s skin. However, once the music starts becoming a familiar element of the movie, the second half becomes less effective as the music blends more and the uneasiness is no longer there but replaced by the actual intensity created by the scene as the demon shifts into the plot. Question is, without the background music, it feels like the tropes are more obvious and the movie is not quite as scary and its intended to be. In that sense, it loses a little bit of the unique elements that was created in the first half and loses some steam.

The Undertaker’s Home has a lot of elements done right. In fact, the way it creates the soundtrack and the sound effects to create the building uneasy and unsettling atmosphere is really well done. Except, when I step back to think about it, the story itself lacks a little bit of spark. Perhaps it has to do with the final act being heavily focused on the stepdaughter and while she makes a great scream queen, her role at the end is more “scream-queen”-esque and not so much depth. There is one transition twist that I do think is a little disjointed even if the meaning of it is vaguely apparent as a little detail mentioned from the beginning part. In a nutshell, it feels like there are a lot of unique ideas here but some of them didn’t get the time to be more fleshed out.