Six Year Plan (2014)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the Transilvania International Film Festival. For more information visit http://tiff.ro/en and follow TIFF Romania on Twitter at @tiffromania.
It’s easy to spend a great deal of the running time of Six Year Plan imagining how fine a horror film its director Santiago Candejas might make before realising that he has. Cannily crafted with minimum resources and maximum effect, this is as attention-grabbing a debut as any filmmaker could hope to make, stunningly singling out its multi-hyphenate helmer—he also wrote, produced, cut, sound designed, scored, and probably made the tea too—as a genre talent who proudly puts paid to the notion that’s in any way a lesser thing to be. Whether it takes home a trophy here remains to be seen—my predictions have historically been pitifully off-base—but the question of whether it ought to is entirely rhetorical.
Cannily crafted with minimum resources and maximum effect, this is as attention-grabbing a debut as any filmmaker could hope to make…
Whether it’s budget concerns or brilliant conceit that drove Candejas to mount this movie in a manner so deftly minimalistic, the result is a claustrophobic chamber piece of commensurate craft. Gorgeously granular 16mm cinematography lends a richness of texture and depth to the darkness abundant here that digital just couldn’t, and Candejas—working with DP José Stempa, who makes no less of a name for himself in his own feature debut—has put it to use pristinely in creating a cloying air of paranoia as real to the audience as to his characters. They are Mercedes and Juan, a couple whose housewarming party in a blacked-out new neighbourhood gives way to an eerie and ominous night when the guests depart and a hooded figure appears beneath their window.
To say much more would be to do the movie’s tremendous tension a grave disservice: this is the territory of home invasion thrillers innumerable, but few manage to reap so many rewards from the plot’s petrifying possibilities, never mind to so successfully meld it with deeper and more dramatic psychosexual connotations. Shooting in sustained takes that bespeak a trust in his actors they prove entirely to deserve, Candejas holds us transfixed in terror throughout as he artfully builds toward a series of surreal reveals. These open the film up to readings on other levels entirely without sacrificing impact on a purely narrative scale: those viewers out for a quick thrill will be thoroughly sated, as too will those keen for more psychologically-oriented fare to pore over.
It’s not the title alone in its reference to Mexican history that points toward a socio-political subtext: the unseen anarchy that appears to fill the streets of this unnamed suburb speaks to a carefully-planted concern for the country today. International audiences are likely to take less from this aloof and ambiguous aspect than the home crowd, but the conceptual ambiguity of the film—not to mention its ability to keep fingernails firmly between teeth—affords it the ability to function fully regardless. Indeed, it’s more immediately interesting as a relationship drama twisted out of all recognition: the strange events that come to befall this couple are an astute externalisation of the kind of insecurities and uncertainties that traverse all national borders.
Whether it’s budget concerns or brilliant conceit that drove Candejas to mount this movie in a manner so deftly minimalistic, the result is a claustrophobic chamber piece of commensurate craft.
Precariously pitched on a tightrope strung high above narrative nonsense and an overzealous message, the film mines as much tension from the frightening ease with which it might at any moment lose its delicate balance as the narrative itself. But Candejas is much more capable than that, and in every aspect from his shrewd screenplay to a score that’s sensible about silence in a way so few these days are, he has offered up ample evidence of a filmmaking talent with every indication of a brilliant future ahead. A late-stage nod to Psycho that’s so much more than a hat-tip is an on-point acknowledgement of the rich heritage of cinema to which this director, his debut suggests, is going to add enormously.
Cannily crafted with minimum resources and maximum effect, this is as attention-grabbing a debut as any filmmaker could hope to make, stunningly singling out its multi-hyphenate helmer as a genre talent who proudly puts paid to the notion that’s in any way a lesser thing to be.