Let’s stay in a crappy apartment.
We follow Ambar (Cristina Rodlo) an undocumented immigrant as she makes her way through Cleveland (why?) trying to find work and a place to live. She needs papers, and may have a lead on them, but first she rents a room totally not shifty Red (Marc Menchaca) in a totally not shifty building.
We get to follow Ambar to her exploitative job where her boss in an ass, her friends seem shady, and her apartment is obviously haunted. Whatever will happen?
Director Santiago Menghini’s feature debut isn’t as bad as a summary of it will ultimately make it seem. However, we can see with such a loaded summary for a 90-minute movie we can predict there will be problems.
There are essentially two stories here: the horrors of being an undocumented alien in a society that wants to exploit AND an ancient, cursed object that is feeding on people. Those two don’t mesh together. We end up shifting between gears too abruptly between these two worlds. The film cannot fully commit to one until it is too late and leaves the other one completely behind.
We end up with exploitative days and scary nights, but Ambar’s logic seems to propel her into more dangerous situations. For example, she sees someone beating their head against a door and only asks why there was another man in the building. Why he was chanting and smashing his head against the door didn’t seem important enough to investigate.
Ambar’s reactions don’t work with the situations we are presented with. She gasps at ghosts, or follows them, or seems to ignore them. She doesn’t allow us to invest in the stakes the narrative is trying to create, which gives the film a cold feeling.
Set design and directing mostly work quite well. The sets in particular are excellent and show a true commitment to tone. Once the characters seem to wake up and things happen, we also get nice tension and intensity, but these moments come quite late.
The movie has a lot going for it. However, the dreary pacing and split focus mixed with too much ambiguity make it more of a slog to get through than it should have been. There are good moments here, and there is the promise of something better than what we got. Right now, this is a decent film that should have been awesome.
For fans of haunted house stories with a unique vibe I think this one is worth watching. It won’t be your film of the year though.