MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND ***
Directed by: Ana Asensio, Starring: Ana Asensio, Natasha Romanova. Horror. US 2017, 80mins, Cert 18.
Released on Digital HD on 5th February 2018, and on Blu-ray & DVD in the UK by Bulldog Films Entertainment on 12th February 2018.
“Did you come here alone too?” “No, with two other models.” “What happened to them?” “New York ate them.” (That’s not a spoiler by the way). Writer, director and star Ana Asensio’s debut feature is one of those films you can only properly discuss with someone who has watched it.
We follow a day in the life of Luciana, an unregistered Spanish immigrant trying to make a new life for herself in New York after the death of her daughter. Without a social security number, Luciana scrapes by on cash in hand gigs such as handing out flyers dressed as a clucking chicken and escorting two little brats home from school. Her (unseen) flatmate leaves terse rent demanding post-its on the fridge, and hoards of cockroaches are only a rip in the bathroom wall away. Unsurprisingly therefore, when Luciana is offered $2,000 to attend a party, “...and it’s not what you think” assures her model friend Olga, Luciana takes the bait.
It’s not a very nice party, although it’s almost certainly not what you think it’s going to be. (And even though Luciana has to wear high-heels and a slinky black dress it’s not the Presidents Club annual charity dinner either).
Noah Greenberg’s hand-held Super 16mm camera restlessly shifts from one female New Yorker pedestrian to another before seeming to randomly settle on Ana Asensio’s Luciana as the film opens. The intention is to suggest being that Luciana’s tale is merely one of countless similar experiences that the lens could choose to shed light on.
You have to wait for over two-thirds of the film to get to the actual party sequence, but the interactions and events preceding it gradually build incremental unease and dread whilst in the back of your mind you keep wondering when will that ’18’ certificate be earned? (For the record I think a ‘15’ would have been sufficient, but hey ho).
Luciana’s muted non-reactive reaction upon finding she is suddenly sharing her bath with cockroaches is the most stark representation of the internal numbness of grief she is harbouring – and it is this deadening of the senses that will come into play much late on.
First-time director Asensio has stated that the film is partially autobiographical (although thankfully this applies more so to the first two-thirds rather than the final sequences). Clearly this project is in part a cathartic exercise for her, and Asensio’s unwaveringly committed performance conveys a simmering intensity born (in part at least) from personal experience.
The ‘pay-off’ scene had me squirming on the sofa, but reactions to it will be dictated by personal phobias and Achilles heels. The open ended conclusion left me a tad nonplussed and unsatisfied, but in many ways it reflects the theme of the piece.
Memorable, if not necessarily that re-watchable.
Extras: Cast & Crew Interviews (40 mins approx).
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