Spanish writer-director Adrian Garcia Bogliano has so far worked in the Americas – with Penumbra, Here Comes the Devil and Late Phases – and built up an interesting and varied genre portfolio. Returning to Mexico, he tries a slightly different mode – a (very) black comic thriller/mystery in the tradition of The Vanishing or such recent Spanish flesh-creepers as Sleep Tight or Grand Piano (Bogliano also cites the Korean vengeance cinema of Park Chan-wook as an influence). It takes its tone, peculiarly, from a CD of classic piano pieces which not only provides a civilised counterpoint to the genteelly savage action but turns out to be a crucial plot point.
Aram (Francisco Barreiro, from Here Comes the Devil), a buttoned-down office worker, is obsessive about his underpaid and undervalued job – he’s number two in an office with a complacent, not-about-to-retire-any-time-soon boss (Jorge Molina) – and splits attention between his demanding, status-conscious wife and the hooker he regularly visits, while also being interested in a tattooed, obviously willing new co-worker. We see him putting together and practicing for a criminal act – he tests out choke-holds on his senile father (who he trusts won’t remember), carries his young son and a weight (a bit that echoes the villain’s use of his child in The Vanishing) and times the walk home from school of teenage Anabella (Daniela Soto Vell) he seems to be stalking. He snatches the girl and confines her in a disused building, taking clips of her looking afraid or stripping naked – though he looks after her and doesn’t abuse her beyond what’s necessary to give the impression that she’s in danger. Eventually, we catch up with what Aram is really up to – he’s not a random pervert psycho, like the villains of most tied-up-in-the-cellar films, but a calculating, ruthlessly ambitious creep who wants to get ahead in the office. After his purpose is achieved, he releases the girl. However, that CD comes back to haunt captor and captive and the last act goes into kill-crazy vengeance mode, leading to a gory, extreme finale (with a punchline that – like the finish of the crasser Landmine Goes Click – echoes a nasty scripted payoff that Eli Roth opted not to use in the original Hostel) that rattles Aram’s meticulous plans with shotgun blasts and the destruction of the life he has gone to great lengths to secure.
Barreiro is creepily good as the sociopathic salaryman, who isn’t even that bad by his own dissassociational lights, and Vell does well by the extreme arc of the ordinary girl who is shaped into something monstrous by her ordeal, because she takes personally an affront the perpetrator assumed was just a move in a game (or a movement in a symphony). Bogliano is shaping up as a modern master – Late Phases and Scherzo Diabolico both show an increasing and effective combination of genre thrills and character exploration.