So off I go to Northern Michigan to visit my family for Christmas, and I need to download some movies for the trip. I like the element of chance where you just see what iTunes is offering on special, and find something among that, which is what led me to this intriguing little number. This is the first feature by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, and it showed so much promise he was recruited to direct the sequel 28 Weeks Later, which was pretty good. And I liked that no one on the IMDb could really explain what it was about, which is often intriguing. So I had the pleasant experience of beginning a movie while knowing almost nothing of what I was in for.
We open at a casino where a man is repeatedly winning at roulette. This catches the attention of this casino worker who calls this fellow Federico, who comes up and touches the man, as if by mistake. The man then loses, and Federico goes to a slot machine—and wins. The idea being that the oter guy had Luck, and Federico has the ability to steal it from him. This will recall the film The Cooler, in which William Macy played a guy whose luck was so bad he was hired by casinos to “cool” the luck of winning patrons.
Downstairs in a bunker-type place is Max Von Sydow as “The Jew,” who wears a mask so no one can see his face except Federico, whom he saved from a fire. It seems that Federico wants to leave his employ, which Max isn’t too happy about. Federico begs Max not to touch him, but Max hugs him [in an amazing-looking reflective elevator while horror music plays], saying “Your gift I discovered, and your gift I take away.” Some thugs drive him away, commenting on how they can touch him now without getting jinxed. They leave him on the side of the road and then—seven years later!
This guy Tomas Sanz is found, and we see people cut open his shirt and reveal money strapped to his body. He wakes in the hospital, and a woman there holds a gun on him. He is the only survivor of a plane crash that killed 237 people, so you can imagne some might consider him fairly lucky. Federico gets him out of the hospital, past the woman, Sara, who is a cop pursuing Tomas, who robbed a bank just before the plane crash. Federico tells Tomas he must never touch him, and takes him to a secret game in which three people sit in a room with a giant insect and the winner is the one it lands on. Yeah, these people have some unusual pursuits.
Meanwhile, Sara is honing closer in on Tomas. She has a large scar across her chest from a car accident that killed her husband and child. So one could say that she is lucky, in her way. And around now you start to have discussion of stealing luck from people, or transferring it from one person to another.
SPOILERS > > >
Now in here is where what was happening became rather obscure to me. First, there is another game, this time where the contestants are blindfolded and to run in a forest. The one who doesn’t hit a tree is the winner. Tomas finds that his ex-girlfriend, Ana, has somehow been “won” in this contest, because he lost at the tree game, and will be killed. He finds his way back, and it all results in a visit to Max to play the special suicide game. Max, it seems, is one of the super-lucky guys, as he was apparently the only survivor of a concentration camp [how “lucky” he is to live in a bunker and play Russian roulette for a living is up to you to decide]. Anyway it goes on, I was a tiny bit lost, but even so it seems like the film loses focus and becomes a little arbitrary, and it ends.
< < < SPOILERS END
Although it ultimately peters out a little bit, or becomes incomprehensible, it’s still a very intriguing topic, has some interesting wrinkles, is populated by compelling characters, and has some fascinating situations. And like I said, it all looks like a glossy magazine. What I found most compelling, aside from the overall idea and its strange wrinkles as expressed here, are compelling character moments, like when Sara interviews Tomas’ ex-girlfriend, and she says the reason she didn’t get on the plane [that crashed] was that Tomas told her “I don’t love you anymore.” Sara then imagines telling her husband “I don’t love you anymore,” which causes him to pull over—and avoid the crash that killed him and their son. It’s just a momentary imagining, but it’s rich and stays with you. There are a lot of little moments like that in the film, which is what makes me say that it’s definitely worth watching. As a whole it may not be much, but the characters and tiny details are the elements ultimately more than the sum of their parts.
Yes, it’s all fascinating and gorgeous to look at… even if it does start to wander.