Not to be confused with John Gilling’s The Shadow of the Cat (1961), this fable-like Argentine fantasy has a few Guillermo del Toro or Jeunet et Caro steampunk elements and also taps into the wealth of lore about medical cultiness that informs A Cure for Wellness. Directed by José María Cicala, who co-wrote with Griselda Sanchez and Gustavo Lencina, it has a slow-burning oddness all of its own, with an invented pseudoscience mythology. Young Emma (Maite Lanata) lives on a remote farm with her father Gato (Guillermo Zapata) and a doting household – including bodyguard Sombra (Danny Trejo) – but wonders why her father has chosen to cut himself off from the modern, techological world … and what happened to her seldom-mentioned mother.
Emma’s curiosity – a trait which is proverbially bad news for cats – leads her to get a mobile phone, which pings her identity to watchers who have been waiting for this moment, and she is drawn back into a situation her father has deliberately removed her from … involving her mother Celia (Monica Antonopoulos), who has become the head of a medical research institute-cum-secret society founded by her mad scientist father Otto Krull (Miguel Angel Solar), who is supposedly dead but whose presence lingers on. The backstory of Gato’s initial seduction and abandonment is doled out in flashbacks, but the bulk of the film is about the father’s attempt to save his daughter from something Emma is at first beguiled by … with the family gothic business gradually emerging as wilder and weirder even than it seems.
Sombra, meanwhile, falls in with a bunch of tough-sentimental drag queens who hail him as a returning hero, adding a different layer of strangeness to a quite-odd-enough-already picture. Trejo, a familiar face in exploitation cinema for decades, has been on a dreamquest to make weird films in unusual territories later – this has resulted in two of arguably the worst films ever programmed at FrightFest, Bullets of Justice and Madness in the Method, but here pays off with one of the most distinctive.