Title: Most Beautiful Island (Fantasia 2017 review)

Also known as:
N/A

Year: 2017

Genre: Drama / Thriller

Language: English

Runtime: 80 min

Director: Ana Asensio

Writer: Ana Asensio

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4866448/


Plot:
As the undocumented immigrant Luciana is trying to survive in New York by taking random jobs, she gets an invitation to a party that is said to pay very well. She's given a locked handbag, a time and location, and all she has to do is show up and take part.

Our thoughts:
"Most Beautiful Island" is a movie I originally saw through Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, and it has now gotten its release by Samuel Goldwyn Films and the review embargo for full reviews has been lifted! This is the debut feature by Ana Asensio as writer, director and producer. As she is an experiences actress as well, she also plays the lead role. It's quite an achievement, and it's something that seems necessarily in hindsight to create such a unique and gripping experience. One can only hope that when the opening states that it's inspired by actual events, that it's a very exaggerated version of reality, as this is a movie that goes dark quickly.

Luciana followed the American dream when she came to New York as an undocumented immigrant, but when she struggles to pay rent or even buy ice cream she knows that she needs to find a better job. Through her new friend, a Russian immigrant, she hears about a quick and easy way to earn a couple of thousand dollars. The friend, Olga, is supposed to go to a party but she's unable to go and asks Luciana to take her place. It sounds easy enough, so Luciana jumps on the chance. But first, she has to visit an Asian restaurant where she's given a locked handbag and where to go. Even though she's getting bad vibes, she needs the money. Later that night at the "party", she's lined up next to a number of other women, among them is her friend Olga, and finds out that she will be participating in a little game.

What I knew about "Most Beautiful Island" before watching it might play into how much I enjoyed the movie. I knew it would be a drama/thriller about a woman who is desperate to get money, but that's about it. I like to keep it vague for myself, and it usually pays off. The peculiar thing about Ana Asensio's direction here is how subtle the hints towards something darker is in the beginning. The atmosphere in the first act feels like an easy-going drama, but with Luciana's desperation growing so does the suspense. It starts with little hints, such as when Luciana pulls off some duct tape from the wall in her bathroom when she's taking a bath, and a dozen-or-so cock roaches fall out into the tub, and Luciana just sits there watching them. Later in the movie, when she finally arrives at the party, the suspense is through the roof as we stay in the "waiting room" with Luciana, as girl after girl is brought into a room.

There is something very perverse and voyeuristic about "Most Beautiful Island", but not quite in the way that you might expect. This isn't your run-of-the-mill torture film, or even what you expect from a movie about rich people playing a game. The movie never gets too extreme or unrealistic. Still, there is a tension to this movie that few manage to bring out. I give Ana Asensio all credit here, considering all the jobs she juggled for this movie to become what it is. Yes, obviously everyone deserves credit, but there is no denying that this movie is incredibly carefully directed, written and acted as not to become either too extreme, or too tame. There is something serious on the line for Luciana here, but perhaps not if you compare it to a horror movie. It's very important that the movie stays grounded.

It was a wise decision to shoot this on 16mm, as that takes away some of the clean feel of modern equipment. The movie keeps its natural and realistic style by shooting on 16mm, but it also brings out a movie uncomfortable vibe when shot in dark indoors. And perhaps most importantly, there is slightly more on the line with every take, everyone needs to stay more focused. It might not matter on some movies, but when the intensity of the situation is so crucial as it is here, it can only help to motivate. Whoever decided to go with 16mm here knew what they were doing!

This might not appeal to those that only watch horror movies, but it's a drama/thriller that plays with your curiosity in a dark way. The movie starts out quite easy and not too gripping, but when it gets into the mysterious parts you can't look away. There's an incredible amount of tension building while Luciana is stuck at the party and trying to figure out what is gonna happen to her. The tension goes even further when we find out what it is. The keyword is suspense, not viscerality or violence. This is a movie that could have some viewers choking on suspense depending on their fears, but what I found to be the darkest thing of all is that it keeps the idea of the "American dream" in focus almost as some kind of joke. That's exactly the kind of messing around that "Most Beautiful Island" enjoys! If this intrigues you and you like your drama/thrillers suspenseful, then you have no excuse not to watch it with its release this week.


Positive things:
- As director, writer, producer and lead actress, Ana Asensio couldn't have been more busy, but she does it all perfectly. She knew exactly what she was doing.
- Intense as hell, but never goes over-the-top!
Negative things:
- It's a short film, which makes the tension bearable, but I expected it to go just a bit longer.

Rating:
Gore: 0/5
Nudity: 1.5/5
Story: 3.5/5
Effects: 0/5
Comedy: 0.5/5

We watched this movie thanks to:
Fantasia International Film Festival 2017

Reviewed by:
Ronny




 

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