Like an episode of The Twilight Zone guest-directed by Luis Buñuel, The Similars is richly absurd in premise but also founded on a bedrock of social and political issues. One vital historical reference is the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968, the same year in which the film is set, where the army killed protesters in Mexico City’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas. The chosen setting and time period also allowed director Isaac Ezban to cleverly formulate his political discourse through the prism of pastiche genre entertainment.
The Similars is a very much a work in the key of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and others classics which captured tumultuous times, cultural revolutions, wars, reds under the bed paranoia, nuclear terror and state- sanctioned violence against the masses. On a dark and stormy night, somewhere in out in the provinces, a disparate band of travellers await the arrival of a long-delayed bus to the big city. Opening with a shot of rain falling hard, there’s a tension and weirdness in the air, a sense that it isn’t just rural bus timetables and traffic at fault, but something much larger is going on behind the scenes. Ulisses (Gustavo Sánchez Parra), a mid-level manager at a local mine, is eager to get to the hospital where his wife has just given birth. He’s rightfully anxious and feeling a bit impatient.
Ulisses meets Irene (Cassandra Ciangherotti), another stranded soul, eight months pregnant and also wanting to get to Mexico City pronto. Other characters soon turn up, including a mother and her emotionally disturbed child. Quickly realising they’re trapped, annoyance at being holed up in a manky bus station soon starts to escalate and they find they cannot – literally – leave the waiting room. Ezban, at about the half-hour mark, then presents the first of several key plot twists, ones expertly placed to thrust the story further and further into The Twilight Zone-esque territory. Ulisses, who initially comes across as the lead protagonist, is pegged as a threat to the others which unleashes a chain of strange happenings. The Similars is a gripping and funny political allegory presented as an outlandish horror.
FrightFest 2016 runs from 25-29 August at Vue Shepherd’s Bush. For info and tickets: frightfest.co.uk
Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn