On the rainy night of October 2, 1968, eight characters waiting on a remote bus station for a bus heading to Mexico City start experiencing a strange phenomenon.
Imagine if you will, a film from Mexico that takes a concept not unlike one you might be familiar with if you’re a fan of a still popular anthology show from the 60’s, and after adding some trenchant differences to that concept, stretches it out to feature film length. Then imagine that the film in question turns out to be quite the surprise, being exciting, scary & quite humorous all at the same time. Well imagine no more, because writer/director Issac Ezban has crafted one of the best films of the year with his latest work, The Similars (aka Los Parecidos).
Taking place in 1968, The Similars tells the tale of a group of people facing some truly odd occurrences while trapped in a bus station. Beginning with one nervous father to be, Ulises (Gustavo Sanchez Parra), and a stationamaster named Martin (Fernando Becerril) that doesn’t want to be bothered, the film slowly introduces the rest of its characters as they end up at the bus depot under varying circumstances. Ulises is frantic because his wife is giving birth, but he can’t get to her because of the storm. He’s soon joined by Irene (Cassandra Ciangherotti) who’s escaping her abusive husband, and is quite pregnant. They’re soon joined by a nameless old woman who doesn’t speak Spanish (Maria Elena Olivares) who babbles incoherently at them, and a restroom attendant (Catalina Salas). While Ulises and Irene are initially sympathetic to each other’s issues, they soon find themselves put off by the weird way the old woman is acting, and the general oddness of the restroom attendant.
They’re soon joined by Alvaro (Humberto Busto) a taxi driver/student who’s very paranoid, Reyes (Alberto Estrella) a police detective, and Gertrudis (Carmen Beato), a snooty housewife with a young son, Ignacio (Santiago Torres), who needs to be frequently injected (in his neck!) with something for a condition his mother will not explain to anyone. Soon, both the old woman and the restroom attendant seem to believe that Ulises is posing some sort of threat, and the others soon begin to agree with them. Especially after they begin to fall prey to what I can only call a unique genetic mutation. But it soon becomes readily evident that the problem is a lot bigger than initially thought, because no one can physically leave the bus station. And the mutations that they’re all falling victim too becomes something a lot larger and more encompassing than just the physical changes they’re going through. Obviously there’s something a lot bigger happening here, but is one of them responsible for it? And if so, who? And why?
There is pretty much nothing else I can say about The Similars, without ruining it for you. Suffice it to say that it’s a twisty, surreal nightmare that has its feet firmly planted in the lore/legend of that unnamed television show I mentioned earlier (Oh hell, it’s The Twilight Zone). What’s different about it is that it lends a generous dollop of absurdist humor to the proceedings that help to leaven the circumstances taking place (which are actually quite nightmarish). But Ezban uses an ingenious color palette here (Starting in black & white before slowly seguing into sepia, then color), and some incredibly well crafted camera moves from Cinematographer Isi Sarfati that also help to make the situation seem a bit less drastic than it really is. The bus station is fairly rote looking, but the design is a lot deeper than it initially looks, and it all feels impossibly cramped after a short while. Which is exactly the look/feel that Ezban was shooting for.
Although The Similars does slow down at certain intervals (mostly due to some long dialogue exchanges), it never felt boring. Mainly because I was frantically trying to figure out what the hell was going on, but I mean that in the best possible way. It pulls you in almost immediately with it’s Rod Serling-esque opening narration, and just continues to work itself under your skin as the mystery gets more and more frenzied. It kept me continually on edge, and I found myself looking for a clue of some type that might have given me an idea of where it was headed. Sadly I found none, but if you keep the inspiration behind the story in mind, you might figure out what’s going on. I didn’t, not until it was actually revealed, but I’m sure there are a few of you out there that are smarter than I am. Maybe.
All of the actors do a great job here, and their individual behaviors are more believable than you might think, given the ever escalating situation they find themselves in. All of the madness is nicely underscored by Edy Lan’s extremely Bernard Herrmann-esque score (which at one point echoes themes from Hitchcock’s Psycho so much it could be construed as theft rather than homage). But in the end, it’s original enough to stand on its own. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of not divulging any secrets here, but ultimately what you’ll get out of The Similars, is what you put into it, and have no doubt – it does demand your complete attention. It does lag a bit at times, and maybe the ultimate reveal will feel very familiar to you once you see it, but if you allow it to work its magic on you, you’ll find yourself wonderfully entertained by what I think is one of the smartest, creepiest, oddest and funniest Sci-Fi/Horror films of recent memory.
The Similars – 4 out of 5 shrouds.