The Similars / Los Parecidos (dir. Isaac Ezban, 2015) – While waiting out a thunderstorm at a bus station, eight strangers soon experience a bizarre collective phenomenon.
A perturbing puzzle meets absurdist comedy in The Similars, a brilliantly crafted and highly entertaining homage to vintage sci-fi.
For anyone who has ever loved The Twilight Zone, The Similars may be a familiar watch. Spiritual echoes of beloved episodes such as Mirror Image resound in the mystery thriller, which then veers off the beaten path and narrowly avoids allegations of total mimicry.
With his inventive follow-up to The Incident (El Incidente), director Isaac Ezban is quickly proving himself a true maestro of small-scale, high-concept science fiction. His narrative style is distinct, his vintage horror influences accentuated by eerie synth strings in the backdrop.
Taking us back to 1968, his latest venture spotlights eight strangers, stranded at a bus station during a storm. Ulises (Gustavo Sanchez Parra) staggers in, anxious to get to Mexico City for his wife’s childbirth. When stationmaster Martin (Fernando Becerri) dismisses his concerns, Ulises turns to a pregnant missus Irene (Cassandra Ciangherotti), who has apparently secured a cab amidst the unrelenting weather.
Others soon turn up: a restroom attendant Rosa (Catalina Salas), an indigenous woman Roberta (Maria Elena Olivares), a paranoid medical student Alvaro (Humberto Busto), and a mother Gertrudis (Carmen Beato) with her ill son Ignacio (Santiago Torres). It is a rat pack as varied as it gets. But in a Kafka-esque turn, they find their faces mutating into the same bearded visage of Ulises, one by one.
Could it be due to the mysterious rain outside? Something to do with the political demonstration at Tlatelolco? Or is it pure metaphysics at work? The absence of answers has everyone turning on the flustered Ulises. Such mass conformity brings to mind the nightmare à la The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, its subtle allegory resulting in layered viewing.
The transformation also adds absurd comedy to the seemingly irreversible terror. Iconic pictures of Connery’s Bond, Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles now share Ulisses’ scraggly look, balancing dark humour and chills. This adept handling comes courtesy of Ezban’s original screenplay, riveting in its twist-ridden plot that never once feels protracted.
His superb team deserves equal praise for this rare entry in Mexican sci-fi. Cinematographer Isi Sarfati crafts a characteristic atmosphere, conveying the evolving mood with varying saturation throughout. An excellent ensemble cast does well to match up. Paranoia continually builds, as fantastic special effects also assure of credibility in the surreal situation.
Suspenseful with just the right amount of camp, The Similars surmounts its potentially thin premise and delivers a surprisingly well-devised mystery. Satisfying answers come from the undervalued fifth dimension of imagination, and somewhere out there, Rod Serling could very well be smiling.
Quoting its almost-clone, this chain of nightmares will assault your sense of reality and leave your sanity in a block. The effectual outcome is testament to Ezban’s distinctive voice in modern cinema, where receptive genre fans may just find The Similars to be one of the most interesting and intelligent sci-fi adventures of late.