The Movie Waffler New to VOD - LOST IN THE NIGHT | The Movie Waffler


A teen's search for his missing mother leads him to the home of a celebrity couple.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Amat Escalante

Starring: Juan Daniel García Treviño, Ester Expósito, Bárbara Mori, Fernando Bonilla, Mafer Osio

Lost in the Night poster

While Mexican filmmaker Amat Escalante continues to highlight his country's well-documented social injustices and corruption, his latest feature, Lost in the Night, is his most mainstream work to date, the sort of socially conscious thriller Hollywood regularly pumped out before the dawn of superhero movies. The usual graphic sex and violence you expect from Escalante is still present but toned down by his standards, and in casting Latina superstar Ester Expósito (the Spanish speaking world's Sydney Sweeney) in a key role, you might surmise the filmmaker is eager to win over a youthful audience beyond his core base of crusty film festival attendees.

The film takes place in a small town in rural Mexico where a Canadian owned mine has divided the residents. In the prologue we see a small group of protestors ambushed by cops on a late night highway. Three years later, Emiliano (Juan Daniel García Treviño), the teenage son of one of the "disappeared" women, receives a clue from a dying cop wishing to confess his sins. Unable to speak due to severe burns, the cop writes a name on a piece of paper. The name is that of Carmen (Bárbara Mori), an actress/singer who lives in a modernist mansion on the outskirts of town with her Spanish contemporary artist boyfriend Rigo (Fernando Bonilla) and her teenage daughter Monica (Expósito).

Lost in the Night review

Hoping to find answers, Emiliano and his girlfriend Jasmin (Mafer Osio) inveigle themselves into the home of Carmen and Rigo, with Emiliano performing manual handywork while Jasmin acts as babysitter. Harassed by a religious sect offended by Rigo's blasphemous artwork, the affluent couple have a pair of local cops at their beck and call, one of whom we know was involved in the disappearance of Emiliano's mother, knowledge the audience is aware of thanks to the prologue but which Emiliano isn't privy to. Emiliano grows suspicious of a water tank on the property, believing it might be filled with corpses, including that of his mother.

Much like David Lynch's Blue Velvet, Lost in the Night features the sort of naïve young protagonists who belong in an Enid Blyton story finding themselves out of their depth in a dangerous adult world. Despite the hardships they've faced in their young lives, Emiliano and Jasmin still possess an adorable innocence, and while they may live in one of the most dangerous places in the western world they still have a capacity to be shocked by the lengths people will go to when spurred by greed. Emiliano's naivete sees him taken under the wing of Rigo, who seems determined to serve as a father figure for the young man. We're left to wonder if Rigo is motivated by guilt, if he was indeed involved in the disappearance of the boy's mother.

Lost in the Night review

Escalante contrasts the innocence and purity of an awkward but romantic sexual fumble between Emiliano and Jasmin with Emiliano's gradual seduction by the worldly and predatory Monica. Like the young protagonists of Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude and Charlotte Le Bon's recent directorial debut Falcon Lake, Monica spends her time filming increasingly elaborate fake suicides which she streams to a large audience of adoring fans. When she confesses a shocking story involving an attempted rape, we're left to wonder if she's genuine or simply trying to shock the innocent Emiliano.

Like many filmmakers who trade in sex and violence, Escalante has been written off by his detractors as nothing more than a shock merchant, a provocateur who gets off on getting a rise out of his audience. Through the characters of Rigo and Monica, Escalante seems to be interrogating his own image. When Rigo offers to create a piece of conceptual art around Emiliano's search for his mother, the boy reacts badly, seeing it as a crass and distasteful gesture. Does Rigo represent filmmakers like Escalante, who have made a living off portraying the suffering of others?

Lost in the Night review

Lost in the Night is never quite as tense or suspenseful as its premise might suggest, and Emiliano never really seems to be in any tangible jeopardy until very late on. Escalante seems more interested in exploring the power dynamics of his film's characters than in teasing out a mystery, and he doesn't seem au fait with how thrillers are structured so as to keep the audience gripped by an unfolding plot. Twists and turns are dealt out in sloppy fashion, mostly through characters literally confessing their deeds to our young hero, who is something of a passenger in the film, stumbling across the truth rather than uncovering it through his snooping.

Those expecting an immersive mystery plot will be ill-served here, but those familiar with and receptive to Escalante's ability to build mood and atmosphere should be more appreciative. Escalante has always had a knack for creating a sense of place, and that's the case here. We feel like we know Emiliano's world better than the young man might himself. It's a world where seemingly everyone has traded a part of themselves to get by. In the wide-eyed Emiliano and Jasmin, touched but unsullied by the greed and deceit that blights their land, we're offered a glimpse of a potentially brighter future for Mexico.

Lost in the Night is on UK/ROI VOD from March 4th.

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