Our coverage of the 2015 Fantasia Film Festival continues with a Mexican kidnap revenge thriller that defies easy characterization.
Let’s bitch it out…
Director Adrián García Bogliano introduced his latest film, a return to his Latin American roots, by encouraging the Fantasia audience to react however we wanted during the screening. I imagine he may have been slightly disappointed with the subdued verbal reactions, but I’ll confess that I was frequently too engrossed by Scherzo Diabolico to do more than watch it. It was only after the fact that I chuckled at its black comedy and excessive third act gore.
The film’s three act structure initially trades in familiar genre tropes, particularly for audiences who are familiar with South Korean thrillers (I was personally reminded of I Saw The Devil, though with slightly less tension). Quiet, every man Aram (Francisco Barreiro) is an unappreciated lawyer clocking long hours for a boss who takes advantage of him. Aram works overtime in order to support his shrill and demanding wife and their superhero-obsessed son and, in general, he’s a nice guy*. We meet Aram as he jots down notes in an abandoned parking lot in the middle of nowhere after a lengthy helicopter-shot tracking credits sequence of him driving through wooden roads. Both acts are important, though Bogliano takes his time explaining why – there’s an investigative responsibility for audiences in the early aspects of the film. Although it’s unclear why Aram is making lists, there is a nefarious element to his activities when it is revealed that he’s following a young girl (Daniela Soto Vell).
*The fact that Aram occasionally hires a prostitute and eventually takes a mistress is communicated as a negative characteristic, though I imagine there is less cultural stigma associated with this act outside of North America
Is Aram a pervert? A psychopath? A villain? Bogliano’s answer is complicated because it may just be yes to all of the above. Although our perception of Aram’s daily frustrations don’t completely change despite what we learn about him over the course of the film, his status as a figure of sympathy and audience identification is significantly problematized when he abducts the girl and leaves her tied up in a rat-infested warehouse with water and protein bars. It is only when his boss becomes distraught that Aram’s true rationale for becoming a kidnapper is revealed.
It is important to remember that the kidnapping is only the first third of the movie, however. Without revealing more, in time the girl becomes just as much of a main character as Aram: her determination to live and her survival methods hinting at her capabilities (especially in her resolution for dealing with the vermin occupying her temporary residence). The fact that her default response mode is anger probably isn’t a surprise, although the events that follow in the latter acts are unexpectedly brutal and bloody. If the first third of the film is the kidnapping, then the second is a lengthy exercise in inevitability as we wait for the truth to emerge. When it does, the bloody third act begins.
Scherzo Diabolico is not a perfect film. Some of the later events of the film require a hearty suspension of disbelief and the plotting to get characters from Point A to Point B needs a little more attention to detail (a longer passage of time following the violent act that ushers in the third act would have helped explain how these violent plans were put into motion). Still, the mixture of black comedy, morally ambiguous characters (who do we root for as the movie goes on?!) and tensely shot action sequences make for an extremely enjoyable viewing. Any movie that can make me chuckle about a grown man’s leg amputated at the calf and left standing up like a sign post definitely deserves a hearty thumbs up.
Scherzo Diabolico screens in London at Fright Fest at the end of August