Thursday, March 15, 2018

Chicanonautica: Weird Scenes in a Mexican Bus Station

Sometimes it’s best for art to come at you like an assassin’s bullet. One moment you’re just a happy consumer, trying to score some entertainment--then BANG!--your brains are scrambled. And the universe isn’t going to look the same anymore.

That’s the effect that science fiction had on me when I was a child back in the Fabulous Fifties, staring that the glow of a tiny black-and-white TV screen, and occasionally the blazing Technicolor glory of a drive-in under a starless SoCal sky.

I wasn’t expecting anything like that night when my wife and I were looking to amuse ourselves on Netflix. Something horror/sff-ish would be nice. Just the thing to unwind to after a day of the usual insanity.

There was something called The Similars that looked promising. A 2015 film from Mexico, originally called Los Parecidos. It was about people trapped in a Mexican bus station on a dark and stormy night.

In my travels, I’ve spent time in a few South-of-the-Border bus stations. They make their gringo counterparts seem sterile, safe zones. They have a way of generating situations out of Kafka, Buñuel, or Jodorowsky. A good setting for a spooky little flick.

However, The Similars is a helluvalot more than a spooky little flick. More than a sci-fi eye fry. It’s a serious brain scrambler.

Writer/director/producer Isaac Ezban merrily assaults the audience’s expectations. Suddenly, I was that little Eastlos boy, once again being savaged by a roaring, flickering screen. This doesn’t happen very often.

Ezban must have absorbed a lot weird pop culture at an impressionable age. There’s a voice-over intro and outro like Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. There are shades of Philip K. Dick, Mexican comic books, and the entire invaders-from-outer-space genre.

But, wait--there’s more!

This isn’t another case of a fanboy regurgitating undigested source material. Ezban has added some weird shit of own to the steamy mix. An I indigenous woman offers an supernatural alternative to the eccentric, sci-fi explanation. The claustrophobic drama proceeds with a intensity that magnifies the effects of some of the strangest, most disturbing surrealistic imagery in the history of cinema that stand out even on this era when special effects are no big deal.

At one point my wife had to stop watching, but she later told me that I had to review it.

And it takes place on October 2, 1968--the day of the massacre of student protesters in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco Plaza. That’s right history and politics seep in. No place is safe.

Also, it has an apocalyptic event happening in’68, while having it make sense that that world as we think we know it seems be going on.

I am struggling not to commit any spoilers. Hope I don’t hurt myself.

Did I mention that it intrudes into high-brow/art film territory?

I am happy to report that the Mexican science fiction film has made a Great Leap Forward--or should that be One Giant Leap?-- this decade (thought I still enjoy the old, cheap funky stuff, but when I’m the the mood for that, there’s always Nollywood) and the world has another badass, mad genius of an auteur. Just what we need in this time when Hollywood has started giving Oscars to Mexicans.

I’ll be checking out Ezban’s other films, and looking out for more, and will let you know about it.

To be continued . . .
Ernest Hogan enjoys wallowing in bizarre imagery and doesn’t care who knows it.

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