Movie Review: The Similars
Director: Isaac Ezban
Writer: Isaac Ezban
Starring: Gustavo Sánchez Parra, Cassandra Ciangherotti, Carmen Beato, Fernando Becerril, Humberto Busto, Santiago Torres, Luis Alberti
Mexican writer-director Isaac Ezban follows up his unnerving debut The Incident with The Similars (Los Parecidos), an homage to the science-fiction films of the 1950s and 60s which dealt with paranoia and the search for individual identity.
The Similars begins on the night of October 2, 1968, with a reference to actual events of political unrest in Mexico at that time, after hundreds of students were mown down by government forces in the Tlatelolco Massacre.
The entire movie takes place in a dimly lit, eerie bus station late at night. At first the stationmaster Martin (Fernando Becerril), has just one impatient customer, bearded, shaggy haired, thirtysomething mining employee Ulises (Gustavo Sanchez Parra), who is frantic at not being able to get to the City where his wife is about to give birth. However, outside an unnaturally violent thunderstorm has paralyzed all tranport.
They are soon joined by the heavily pregnant Irene (Cassandra Ciangherotti), fleeing from an abusive husband. The travellers prove sympathetic to each other’s distress, but become increasingly disturbed by the behaviour of the other characters - an elderly, non-Spanish speaking native woman (Maria Elena Olivares) who seems to be intoning spells and curses, a restroom attendant (Catalina Salas) who becomes inexplicably alarmed at Irene’s desire to leave the building, and the increasingly hostile Martin.
As the rain pours outside and the radio gives interrupted, ominous updates on some unexplained event, more storm refugees arrive. These include paranoid taxi driver/ medical student Alvaro (Humberto Busto), police detective Reyes (Alberto Estrella), and socialite housewife Gertrudis (Carmen Beato), whose young son, Ignacio (Santiago Torres), appears to be very ill and frail.
However, Ignacio’s mother become fiercely over-protective and panicky any time her son wakes from his stupor or becomes agitated. Both we and Alvaro the medical student, begin to wonder what mysterious condition he is suffering from and why she keeps giving him injections to sedate him?
As these eight characters remain stranded inside the isolated bus station, desperately waiting for a bus that won’t arrive, something strange begins to happen - each of them starts to fall ill and undergo an odd and unexpected genetic mutation.
For reasons that I won’t divulge for fear of spoilers, all of the characters become convinced that it is Ulises, the first visitor, which is the source of the threat.
The Similars is primarily a self-conscious homage to old-school suspense-science-fiction, and is particularly reminiscent of The Twilight Zone. It has moments which recall some of Hitchcock’s movie templates and Ezban likes to use monochromatic tones that gradually give way to muted colour.
Present throughout is Edy Lan’s melodramatic, retro-feeling score (very Bernard Herrmann-esque in mood, the composer of various scores including Hitchcock’s Psycho, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo as well as other movie milestones of the era).
Ezban has also tapped into one of the mainstays of the science fiction genre, creating a commentary on paranoia and the struggle for identity which was often examined in movies of the time he is emulating, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
For the special-effects Ezban opted for traditional methods, avoiding CGI. He has instead used a team of make-up and effects artists for the characters’ transformations. This choice serves the form of the movie well, as digital effects might have undermined the tone and mood and compromised the illusion that The Similars is meant to look and feel like a film of a different era.