A Mexican film from 2015, The Similars is set in one location, shot mostly in black and white with occasional muted colouring, and comes with a melodramatic score, and yet is one of the most gripping and bizarre films I’ve seen in a long time.
On a rain swept night in 1968 eight people gather at a bus station where all the buses are delayed, and due to excerpts from a radio broadcast they slowly begin to realise that something’s terribly wrong, not only in their location but the rest of the world. Which becomes even more apparent as suddenly an old woman’s face mutates, and she looks exactly like Ulysses, one of the men present. And soon she’s not the only one. To say any more would ruin the surprises the film offers up, but from beginning to end this is a captivating movie, and one which I’d argue is pretty unpredictable.
All of the characters are well defined and portrayed, from a student doctor who despises the government (and given the events of the often referenced upcoming event at Tlatelolco he has every reason to), to the heavily pregnant woman, whilst the mother and child are understandably terrified by events. Even the old woman who speaks no English is an intriguing character, though oddly it could be suggested she excels at playing the character far better once transformed. The script is extremely tight as well, and if there is a drawback it’s that some of the make up is a little patchy, and despite the concept no one looks exactly identical to each other, but given the low budget and general effectiveness of the film, I’m more than happy to ignore this.
There’s some beautifully ridiculous scenes here, including a montage of famous photographs where suddenly all involved have Ulysses’s face, and that idea is taken to even more absurd heights when a character flips through a collection of pornographic magazines, and soon the film becomes even more twisted. Written and directed by Isaac Ezban (whose only other film is 2014’s The Incident, which I plan to check out as soon as possible on the strength of this), he’s clearly a director to watch out for as the film is stylish, disconcerting in the best possible way, yet bleakly amusing as well.
A mix of comedy, fantasy and humour, this is like a Twilight Zone episode if that series had become even odder than it already was. There’s a tiny bit of gore in it but most of the time it relies on distressing the audience psychologically, at least until the (possibly unneeded) exposition dump right at the very end. And the eventual reveal of what exactly is going on is a beautiful one, and the villain involved is a mischievous and exquisitely evil creation and then some.
It’s a film which manages to be genuinely chilling but also often funny, if only due to the insanity of the concept, though the filmmakers lean in to this with the over the top score as well. I sometimes struggle with films set only in one location but this a taut, beguiling piece of cinema, and an essential one for anyone who likes to laugh whilst also being disturbed.