‘Lost in the Night’: ‘Heli’ Director Continues His Exploration Of Violence In Mexico In New Thriller09 October, 2023
At its surface Amat Escalante’s Lost in the Night (Perdidos en la noche, Mexico-Germany-Netherlands, 2023) relates a simple search for justice. Protagonist Emiliano (Juan Daniel García Treviño) unpacks a familiar story of corruption while looking for his activist mother (Vicky Araico), who has disappeared. The trail leads him to the home of the wealthy upper-class family Almada, who he convinces to hire him as a handyman, as he digs for answers.
In this sense Escalante’s fifth feature marks a clear break from his previous films in its conventional approach to genre, leaning heavily on the thriller format where shadows and danger loom large. The plot is complemented by an eery score from composing duo Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein with stylistic nods to the likes of Hitchcock and Lynch.
What is clear in the first seconds of the film, is its obsession with spectacles of violence. From its red screen, reminiscent of red-band trailers, to the opening epithet on suicide and impact from Dostoyevsky, the concept is written into the very fabric of the film and plot.
The bluish hues of murky water and nighttime setting, contrast with the reds of blood and the dot of the camera recording light. These same colours are mirrored in the emergency lights of the police who come under blatant yet superficial criticism from the narrative.
In keeping with the thriller classification, Emiliano attempts to observe the family without being conspicuous. And Escalante, adding to the tension, delivers a constant reminder of our spectatorship, framing scenes from an outside perspective through windows, screens and binoculars.
So much of the film’s visuals are concerned with the relationship between image and violence, something Escalante himself has been criticised and lauded for throughout his career. The celebrity family Almada notably comprises artist patriarch Rigoberto Duplas (Fernando Bonilla), singer-actress mother Carmen (Bárbara Mori) and influencer teen Mónica (Ester Expósito).
Rigoberto is persecuted for a provocative artbook he has published featuring close-ups of the wounds of a cadaver. While Monica (whose bedroom wall features a blown-up image of one of nota roja photographer Enrique Metinides’ most famous morbid shots) has garnered thousands of followers creating fake suicide attempt videos.
Beyond Emiliano and this core family, the film is populated with curious characters, who are woefully underdeveloped. So little is learnt, for example, about the cultish religious group Los Aluxes, or the civic efforts of Emiliano’s sister who works tirelessly to uncover mass graves and identify victims. Similarly, themes of class inequality are loosely but insufficiently explored. Unlike Escalante’s other films, we spend little time in homes outside of the Almada mansion.
Nonetheless, the presence of the disappeared is felt throughout the narrative. A feat achieved via a combination of thematic tension and the many visual cues and references to the reality of Mexico’s forced disappearances throughout the film. Its very title in Spanish Perdidos en la noche pointing to the many lost, not just Emiliano’s mother.
Lost in the Night is showing as part of the 67th BFI London Film Festival and will be released in the UK on 24th November.
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