Due to political issues, Cuban film industry isn’t really well-known to mass audiences, let alone horror movies from that country. In fact, the only horror film from Cuba I can recall is the now-famous Juan of the Dead, a light-hearted and entertaining zom-com written and directed by Alejandro Brugues.
Hopefully, Is That You? (originally titled ¿Eres tú, papá?) will change this: the movie had its world premiere at the Oldenburg International Film Festival in Germany in 2018 and will open August 2 at Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles, followed by a DVD / VOD North American release on August 13 from Breaking Glass Pictures. As first-time director Rudy Riveron Sanchez, who also wrote the script, said: «Cuban films either portrayed the benefits of the Cuban revolution or criticised the resulting political system, I knew that I wanted ¿Eres tú, papa? to be different, because I wanted to take this story of a Cuban family to a broader audience»
And that’s exactly what this film is: the dramatic story of a poor family. Living in a modest shack in the Cuban countryside, thirteen-year-old Lili (Gabriela Ramos) and her mother (Lynn Cruz) appear trapped in a meagre, suffocating existence by her domineering father, Eduardo (Osvaldo Doimeadios). His sudden disappearance should represent a new freedom for the girl and her mother, but Lili is distraught, thus she resorts to a ritual to bring him back: the ritual doesn’t go as planned, and now the situation becomes even more unstable.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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First example of psychological horror in the entirety of Cuban cinema, Is that You? is a proper slow-burner: the story unfolds at a very slow pace, the characters evolve step by step in a scenario that’s very uncomfortable to witness. This narrative allows for the build-up of an extremely bleak atmosphere that is, simultaneously, unsettling and despairing. The music, entirely composed for the film, is also very eerie and atmospheric, reaching the climactic tension when needed. Although this slowness seems a tad unnecessary when it comes to the characters performing mundane tasks, it is also perfect to let the viewer sink in all the information.
The storytelling, devoid of any exposition whatsoever, is perfectly structured and delivered through spotless character development and purposeful visual narrative. Is That You? relies on impeccable performances from the actors, with young Gabriela Ramos and expert Osvaldo Doimeadios providing a level of authenticity that’s truly hard to find even in renowned and seasoned performers. The small cast does an impressive job at delivering subtle and self-restrained performances that beautifully match the tone of the story.
Another aspect that fits seamlessly is the cinematography by Raul Perez Ureta, which is able to convey a sense of desperation and helplessness with a thoughtful combination of close-ups, mediums and (only a few times) wide shots. The photography, backed up by the intelligent reliance on natural lighting in every single sequence, provides this picture with a genuine fluidity that enhances the realism.
Although Is That You? is a masterfully directed film, the script perhaps stands out even more: the reincorporation of off-putting and unsettling images from the beginning into the ending of the film is extremely clever and nearly unnoticeable in its subtlety, providing this contained storyline with elements of distress that have various layers to them. The concept of how a violent figure can negatively impact the upbringing of young people, while not entirely new, is refreshingly depicted here in one of the most unique ways I had the pleasure to witness.
Is That You? is a movie that deals with ‘real horror’, with monsters inside the domestic walls, adding to this idea a few supernatural elements that feel 100% real due to the way they’re presented. The ending of Is That You?, which is very climactic and hard-hitting due to the now scratchy and violent score, feels like the perfect conclusion for such a depressing and poignant story.
Aside from the sometimes frustrating pacing when the characters are focusing on routine activities, the other complaint I have with this film relies on two dream-sequences: they’re very similar to one another and, although I understand their purpose and they’re well-made on a technical level, they come off as distracting when paired with the seamless flow of the rest of the movie.
Is That You? is a great psychological horror film: it’s purposeful, extremely well-made, very unique and rather unsettling. It’s not a movie for everyone, though, as I’d recommend it only to those viewers who loved movies along the lines of The Witch, Under the Shadow and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The relentlessly slow pacing can put some people off, but it’s perfect for the story, its characters and the message that this movie delivers: I really loved Is That You?, I can’t wait to buy the DVD as soon as it comes out and I’m eagerly looking forward to Rudy Riveron Sanchez’s next films: don’t be surprised if, one day, you’ll see his name in the line-up for something like The Cannes Film Festival!
Is That You? (AKA ¿Eres tú, papá?) 9/10
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