Embryo (2020) Review
Embryo is the latest film by Chilean director Patricio Valladares (Hidden in the Woods, Nightworld: Door of Hell). And it sees him and writer Barry Keating (The Rift: Dark Side of the Moon, The Ghosts of Monday) returning to some of the Lovecraftian themes they explored in their previous film Downhill. This time they serve them up with a generous side order of Xtro, Astro, and Inseminoid, (or Horror Planet depending on where you saw it).
It’s something of an anthology film, consisting of three stories about UFO abductions and impregnations in the area of Chile’s Snowdevil Mountain, an alleged hot spot of strange activity. The main story concerns Kevin (Domingo Guzmán, Toro Loco) who has just proposed to Evelyn (Romina Perazzo) on a camping trip when she disappears. When he finds her, she’s naked and covered in a strange slime. She’s also very pregnant, and like many pregnant women, she has strange dietary cravings. Hers are for human flesh.
Embryo’s two other stories are related via found footage video kept by a policeman (Cristian Cuentrejo, Toro Loco: Bloodthirsty) with an interest in these cases. These are shown as interludes in Kevin and Evelyn’s story.
In the first, a film crew shooting in the area in 2008 who run into problems when their set receives some strange visitors and Paulina (Paulina Facuse), their leading lady, suffers a fate similar to Evelyn.
This segment was fairly weak and didn’t add much to the film at all. It almost feels like it’s there just to show Paulina topless.
The second tale, apparently recorded on a cell phone, follows Carla (Evelyn Belmar, Dirty Love) and Ignacio (Giordano Rossi, Ámbar) who become parents after Carla vanishes on a camping trip. Years later, their daughter’s real father comes looking for her.
Despite being padded with vacation footage, this segment works up some chills at the end when the aliens return. It also hooks in with Embryo’s opening text, claiming the aliens are breeding a hybrid race.
After that, Embryo returns to the main story. It wraps it up and then follows that with a news report filling in a few more details.
Shot for 6,000 Euros, (about 7,000 USD), Embryo (or Embrión in the original Spanish) was originally intended as a pilot for a television show. For a film with a four-figure budget, Embryo does look very good. Much of the film takes place at night, and some of the scenes are quite atmospheric. The various disembowelled victims are convincingly done. The aliens themselves stay mostly offscreen, but the tentacles and claws we do see don’t look bad.
Filming was interrupted by the pandemic, and the pilot was turned into the seventy-two-minute film we have now. And that would explain the frequent flashbacks, footage of Carla and Ignacia’s trip to London, etc. It might also explain Embryo’s rather anticlimactic ending as well, especially if this was intended to be an ongoing story. It’s annoying, but ultimately no worse than all the films that leave their ending open in hopes of becoming a franchise. Interestingly, both IMDB and Valladares’ website mentions a project called Snowdevil. Whether that’s an earlier version of this film or a proposed continuation remains to be seen.
As a stand-alone piece, though, Embryo feels unfinished. The two sub-stories are, by their nature, somewhat sketchy and short on details. Plus, they cut into time that could have been used to flesh out the main tale. A bit more detail on the aliens and just what they were up to and why would have been nice.
Given what Valladares and Keating have done in the past, Embryo is something of a disappointment. But it is still watchable and, given its compromised shooting schedule, better than it probably should be.
Uncork’d Entertainment will release Embryo on Digital, April 6th.