Sunday, June 26, 2011

Para Entrar A Vivir: The Model Home

Watching this, I was reminded of one of the first apartments my wife and I looked at after we got married. It was a basement apartment in a grotty-but-not-dangerous part of town. It was accessible from a door that opened directly onto the street, and wasn't secured with anything more than a standard lock and a deadbolt - no lobby, no security cameras, no buzzer to let people in. The door to the apartment itself was worse - cheap wood with a knob that showed evidence of repeated jimmying and splinters and gouges around the doorframe where kicking had done what jimmying couldn't. Things were not off to a good start.

The apartment itself was dark, low-ceilinged and cramped. Windows were narrow and near the ceiling. The walls were bare brick that had been painted over. The closet doors were pulled off their tracks, with laundry spilling out. About the time the current occupant wandered out of the bedroom wearing only a pair of boxers, it was all over. Our consensus? "Let's not live someplace like where the fat guy died in Seven." It's been a watchword ever since.

Looking for a place to live is sort of a horror all its own. You're essentially putting your trust in a stranger when it comes to the one place that's supposed to be a center of safety and security. Violate that, and you touch something deep and primal when it comes to fear. The call is coming from inside the house. Nowhere is safe.

Para Entrar A Vivir (To Let) does a very good job of exploring the horror of home.

We open on a dimly lit apartment, dilapidated. Something's not right. Flies buzz, maggots crawl around plates, and somewhere, a baby cries. A young woman pads quietly down the hall. Whispers in voiceover say "everything is perfect. Perfect. Perfect on one and two. Children on two. Everything is perfect." What does it mean? Empty mannequin faces and limbs litter the hallways. Without answers, we cut to sunlight, cheery music, and Clara and Mario.

Clara and Mario are a young couple, expecting their first child soon. They've been living with Mario's family and it's getting sort of old. Clara's getting tired of looking at apartments, and her pregnancy's not exactly going smoothly. She's either puking or exhausted, or exhausted from puking. Mario picks her up from work so they can go look at yet another place. It looks perfect - 3 bedrooms, 1 and a half bath, full kitchen, lots of light. Shit, I'd rent it. It's a long drive, and Clara's tired. She takes a nap while Mario drives.

Clara wakes to thunder, lightning, and rain lashing the car. They're in an unfamiliar neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. It's what could gently be called a "neighborhood in transition", which is just another way of saying "it's still shitty, but we're laying our money down that that's going to change." Buildings falling down or already rubble, graffiti on the walls, industrial facilities for a skyline. Abandoned cars sitting stripped on blocks, and almost nobody in sight. Where are they? What have they done? Clara's worried, but Mario's trying to be optimistic.

The apartment building imposes itself on the sky, old but solid. It's being renovated, the real estate agent says, this area will be unrecognizable in a years' time. The apartment itself is what could be called a fixer-upper. Big, lots of character, lots of untapped potential. The real estate agent is confident, she's talking like the apartment is already theirs.

Oddly, there's a picture of them already in the bedroom. And one of Mario's old pairs of sneakers under a dresser. Almost like they were meant to be here all along.

This is a short film, so from here the rollercoaster starts a pretty fast downward plunge. This works in its favor, because the brevity and punchiness keeps vibrant the running and shouty bits that typically get old very quickly over the course of a feature-length movie. Obviously there is something Very Not Right about the building and the people in it, but it takes the rest of the movie to get all of the answers. There are chases, false starts, setbacks, near-misses, and a fair amount of blood involved. Everyone concerned is trapped in this majestic old building as a horrible parody of domestic bliss imposes itself on the proceedings like a beautiful bowl of fruit infested with worms. 

It's not necessarily an innovative movie, and it does have its missteps, but ultimately it is executed well enough to leave you wound up for the protagonists and asking the time-old question posed by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - "who will survive, and what will be left of them?" Like that movie the caricature of domesticity adds to the horror of just surviving unimaginable events, but rather than a piercing near-hysteric crescendo, here it is a resounding chord - the protagonists are the new residents in this little community where everything goes on as normal, even if not everyone involved is alive, completely human, or free of restraints, and it echoes into each corner. It doesn't stab, it suffocates. No matter how much we want to, sometimes leaving home is hard.

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