When you think of Cuba, what comes to mind? Cigars? Rum? Sunny beaches and old cars? Whatever comes to mind, it probably isn’t horror movies. Apart from Juan Of The Dead, I can’t think of any. Well, now there is a second one, Is That You? (¿Eres tú, papá?). The first feature from Rudy Riverón Sánchez, it’s billed as the country’s first psychological horror film. And a dark, grim tale it is.
Lili (Gabriela Ramos) is a 13-year-old girl living with her mother Alina (Lynn Cruz) and father Eduardo (Osvaldo Doimeadiós) in rural Cuba. Eduardo beats Alina and keeps her locked in the house, her feet bound to prevent her from escaping. Despite this, Lili loves her father, enough to prevent her mother from escaping when she has a chance.
One day Eduardo fails to come home. A distraught Lili eventually goes to see Caridad (Eslinda Núñez) who claims she can bring him back via black magic. However, the results are not what she expects.
Is That You? would be a dark and horrifying film even without bringing the dark arts into it. Domestic violence, mental illness, Stockholm Syndrome, and even hints of incest figure into the film. It’s relentlessly downbeat and there are almost no scenes that convey any kind of happiness at all.
The film’s look matches its mood. Everything is drab, often brown and dirty looking. Even the green of the trees is muted and dulled down. It’s the kind of landscape where, when Lili starts talking to her father’s spirit it doesn’t seem odd. And the possibility of him possessing her is almost logical.
Unfortunately, the film has two fairly major issues. The first being Is That You? gives no exposition or backstory to its events. There’s no justification for Eduardo’s actions but it would help to know what was behind them. One can guess Alina had an affair and he literally lost his mind over it. Or maybe he was always a psychotic asshole and just got worse over time.
The other and bigger issue Is That You? has is its pacing. It’s glacially slow-moving, well beyond even what could be called a slow burn. And at an hour and forty-five minutes, it’s overlong by at least twenty minutes. A lot of the tension the film builds evaporates during the dull stretches squandering the script’s potential.
Equal parts frustrating and rewarding, Is That You? opened in Los Angeles on August 2 at the Laemmle Music Hall and will be available on DVD & VOD August 13 from Breaking Glass Pictures. You can check its website and Facebook page for more details.