02nd Jun2015

Sci-Fi London 2015: ‘El Incidente (The Incident)’ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Raúl Méndez, Humberto Busto, Erick Trinidad Camacho, Magda Brugengheim, Santiago Mendoza Cortes, Nailea Norvind | Written and Directed by Isaac Ezban

incident-poster

My initiation into Sci-Fi London looked like it was going to tick all the boxes for me: time-twisting premise; Primer-esque allusions to a complex (and possibly unsolvable) narrative; and, best of all, the fact that El Incidente was an original, mid-budget science-fiction movie I knew almost nothing about.

Well, the final result isn’t quite what I just described, but it’s still a far cry from being a cookie-cutter blockbuster, and everyone in the (very enthusiastic) crowd seemed very happy that was the case. Without giving too much away, the film concerns two sets of separate characters in parallel situations: in one, a group of three men are stranded in an infinitely repeating staircase; in the other, the same is true of a family of four stuck on a piece of endless road with no hope of outside contact or escape.

The first half of the film depicts the psychological impact of these events on the characters (suffice it to say that nobody takes it particularly well), while the second half pushes the situations to their (semi-)logical conclusions and takes things in a pseudo-philosophical direction. Whether this turn of events will appeal to depends partly on how much patience as an audience member you have, as El Incidente indulges in long takes depicting futile acts (in one scene a man drives up and reverses back down the same stretch of road at least four times) with more regularity than I really felt necessary. The mid-story change in direction adds some interesting detail and more than a few sight gags to the film’s world, but the relentless feeling of dread that’s created (partly provided by the seemingly cocaine-fuelled strings score) starts to wear on you after too long, and not a great deal, plot-wise, happens after the titular ‘incident’ occurs.

It quickly becomes clear that this is a film about ideas, not characters, as there’s no real focus on any one person’s story until the end – which in itself gives less about their inner being than it does about pure exposition. Or, I should say, idea. There’s one core notion to the film, and while that can sometimes be enough to carry a story, here it unfortunately plays like an overlong short. The movie feels a little too in love with its shallow-focus, Instagram-filtered cinematography and overreaching script, which strives for epiphanies about isolation but regularly falls into clichés. The metaphor of hell and purgatory is obvious and stated out loud several times and, while there’s always room for new comment in such a broad area, El Incidente doesn’t have all that much to say by its exasperating end other than ‘life is mostly tedious shit’, which isn’t really something I want or need from a movie.

I also took issue with some gross generalisations made about the ‘old’ versus the ‘young’ and how they experience life, not to mention the wholly throwaway female characters, most of whom have hysterical episodes, go catatonic and die so that the male characters can weep some manly tears about them. This is a trope that is getting tiresome to the point not just of disappointment in the writing & direction of many films, but also anger that a startlingly high number of male filmmakers still haven’t realised that women are actual sentient beings too. WHICH YOU’D THINK WOULD BE OBVIOUS BY NOW.

Not without points of interest and weird enough to fit neatly alongside oblique, hyperreal films like Post Tenebras Lux (which I hated, but apparently some people liked), El Incidente doesn’t really have the story or characters to back up its premise, and would have been far better served by a tight rewrite, some severe cuts and perhaps a more compelling title. Is it just me or does ‘The Incident’ sound like a euphemism for an uncomfortable family scandal that no-one brings up at Christmas?

El Incidente (The Incident) played at the Sci-Fi London Film Festival which is running until 7th June. For the full programme of screenings and events click here.

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