Ana Asensio directs, writes and stars in Most Beautiful Island, a story of an immigrant in New York who is risking delving into the mysterious unknown in order to earn money. Warning: spoilers below…
“Leave the audience feeling indifferent to the watching of the film”
The film opens with shots of unknown women crossing the streets of New York – we do not know these women and there is no clue as to whether this is relevant in the film. And this seems to be a running theme throughout– scenes that hold little relevance to the scene prior and the question of whether this is poignant to the plot, to the point where these unsmooth transitions between scenes leave the audience feeling indifferent to the watching of the film.
“Allows you to feel you are following Luciana’s journey”
Yet, in this sense, Asensio, who also stars as main character Luciana, has directed a film which truly does encapsulate a day-in-the-life of a citizen. A film would not be labelled as ‘low budget’ without it’s mediocre camerawork, and indeed the hidden, behind-the-back angle of the camera has this effect, yet also allows you to feel you are following Luciana’s journey in New York, in a way you have never seen it before onscreen: bleak and undesirable. You never get to know Luciana, due to complete lack of character development despite visibly clear attempts throughout the film.
“A feeble attempt to give a deeper context to the character”
The first of the dialogue is in Spanish (given my disregard for foreign films, this came as an initial fright. Perhaps the biggest fright I received from this horror film). Luciana is conversing with her mother about her guilt over a child – as an audience, we never discover its relevance, nor do we ever revisit this sub-plot, but we understand this was perhaps a feeble attempt to give a deeper context to the character. Perhaps it would’ve been helpful to have any context at all? Just a suggestion. I’m no expert.
“Boy can mystery drag on. And on”
The film does eventually settle into a solid direction with the plot. Cliché Russian villain Olga (played by Natasha Romanova) sets Luciana up with a high paying job with no unreasonable requests – the only condition being to wear a pretty dress and go to a party. One would not be able to tell you why, but the audience can sense there is something weird about this. And it is from here that a sense of mystery begins to develop, and boy can mystery drag on. And on. To an unimpressive climax at that.
“Screaming sears into the ears of the audience”
It is revealed that this ‘job’ involves standing in a basement with other girls, getting called in one by one to play a game. Kudos to Asensio for delivering the building of tension expected of the horror genre here – as each girl is called emotions run high, screaming sears into the ears of the audience at one point as a girl is dragged kicking and screaming from this unknown ‘game’.
“A wasted opportunity for expectations which had been built so high”
Reviews online sing this film’s praises: critics of Rotten Tomatoes write of the tension that builds and the imagination being able to run wild – but is this suffice if the revelation of the mystery ends with disappointment? For me, the revelation of the game felt quite tame – a wasted opportunity for expectations which had been built so high.
“You can’t slate Asensio for trying, can you?”
This debut can be commended for the building of tension during the basement scene and its occasional aesthetic cinematography – particularly the closing shot of the film in which Luciana stands over a bridge by a sign that read ‘Big Big Dreams’, symbolising her Big, Big…Dreams. You can’t slate Asensio for trying, can you?
“Unexpected yet quite effective theme of zooming in on insects”
Thankfully, she then exits the shot. There is also the unexpected yet quite effective theme of zooming in on insects. This aspect certainly reminded the audience they were indeed viewing a film of the horror genre – had they forgotten, which they may have amongst the dragged out scenes.
“Executed poor character development”
Overall, Most Beautiful Island lacked clear focus and direction regarding the plot and executed poor character development. Asensio had a vision of portraying a fearless protagonist and that she did – it’s a shame that by the time she establishes this character definition, the audience are about ready for bed – no matter what the time of day.
“Would have been praised more highly by me had it been a short film”
As I said, it feels like you have pretty much spent 24 hours with Luciana during this directorial debut. This film would have been praised more highly by me had it been a short film, thus lessening it’s feeling of dragging. As critic Brian Tallerico notes “ it may have worked better as an instalment of a horror anthology series.”
Click here for more Film and TV Reviews
Image Courtesy of Broadway Cinema.