Los Parecidos / The Similars, 89 mins. Directed by Isaac Ezban.
How different modern cinema would be if Alfred Hitchcock had been at all receptive to science fiction. A superb craftsman of cinematic storytelling technique, the director known as the “Master of Suspense” eschewed scientific explication and fantastic premises in favour of mystery and human motives to drive the plots of his films (in The Birds, for instance, no outright explanation for bizarre aviary behaviour is ever provided; instead the characters are left to anxiously speculate among themselves.) If Hitchcock had applied his craft to a series like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, the campy melodrama of 1960s American science fiction would have been vastly improved by his example, legitimizing the genre as capable of great artistry well before Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and perhaps raising the standard for its narratives.
Los Parecidos (“The Similars”) director Isaac Ezban seems to exist in just such an alternate universe, or at least he writes his scripts there: The Similars combines a variation on the familiar locked-room suspense scenario (similar to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead farmhouse siege) with surreal, psychological elements that echo the questioned-reality premises of The Twilight Zone, complete with Rod Serling-styled narration.
When a strange and unnatural storm traps five desperate travellers in an isolated bus station with three peculiar inhabitants, tension and anxiety rapidly increase as bizarre events unfold. At the center of it all, a sick young boy and his doting mother (Santiago Torres and Carmen Beato) seem to know more than they should about what is really going on, and a comic book in the boy’s possession offers more questions than answers. As the group succumbs to the mysterious epidemic one by one, the travellers turn on one another in a frantic search for the cure.
Although Ezban is not afraid to inject a little gravity via the film’s historical context (the date of the story’s occurrence and its bus station setting are tied to a real event in Tlatelolco, Mexico, where government forces massacred protesting students and subsequently suppressed all information about the incident), the director conducts his production with Hitchcockian élan, from its economical editing right down to its film score reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann, and adding a wicked dose of gleefully bizarre humour via the specific form by which the “virus” manifests.
The one glaring problem of the film echoes the issue that Hitchcock took with science fiction: too much explication spoils the mystery and potentially confuses viewers. Ultimately, The Similars offers too much information and jettisons our suspension of disbelief from the matrix of the film, so that what should otherwise be a satisfying ending is reduced to a distracting coda as we try to plug ourselves back into the story before the credits roll. Does Ezban discount the ability of his audience to follow along? One thinks not – more likely it is merely the director’s closing nod to Serling-esque narration, which also opens the film; however, as Hitchcock demonstrated with The Birds, sometimes the best explanation is to leave everyone guessing.
The Rio Theatre audience in attendance for the film’s Vancouver International Film Festival premiere clearly enjoyed its unconventional take on pandemic virology as well as actor Gustavo Sánchez Parra’s straight-man reactions as Ulises. Overall, it’s a fun experience – particularly for anyone who has seen a Hitchcock movie or an episode of The Twilight Zone – and works best as a contemporary revisiting of classic genre storytelling and cinematography.