Eye For Film >> Movies >> Shadow Of The Cat (2021) Film Review
Shadow Of The Cat
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Some older adults honestly seem to believe that in the days before mobile phones, teenagers lived in the moment instead of concerning themselves with how they might present the minutiae of their lives to others. How quickly they forget. Telling stories – and, for the past century, pretending to be on film or TV – has long been a part of teenage life, and that’s how Emma (Maite Lenata) entertains herself, running round the family farm to introduce the unseen audience to her home, her relatives and her favourite chicken. She’s living in the modern age but has little contact with the trappings of modern life. Her father, Gato (Guillermo Zapata), is anxious that their small household remain secluded. One day, however, Emma gets the chance to go into town with her father’s bodyguard Sombra (Danny Trejo) to see a carnival, and whilst she’s there she discovers a lost mobile phone.
One slip is all it takes. Within hours of Emma first posting online, she has discovered the shocking news that her mother did not willingly abandon her, and has been persuaded to leave the family home and go to meet members of the cult of which her mother is a member. Upon realising what has happed, Gato knows exactly where she will be – but getting her back is another matter.
A haven for fleeing Nazis after the Second World War and a country which, with its low land prices and relatively laissez-faire attitude to remote settlements, has attracted eccentrics and experimental thinkers from all around the world, Argentina has had more than its share of cults over the years, so the ideas held to be this one are not shockingly unlikely. That it would have succeeded in realising some of its more outlandish scientific objectives is where the fantasy element of the film kicks in, and where it moves beyond the familiar kidnap and rescue thriller genre.
By giving us more colourful villains, this also simplifies some of the film’s social dynamics, absolving Gato of any moral qualms he might have had about keeping mother and daughter apart all these years. Nevertheless, a degree of ambiguity is maintained until late in the game. Is Gato’s quest motivated purely by his personal feelings; does he have reason to fear that Emma will come to harm; or is he afraid of what she might become?
There are questions here which might be explored productively, but after a solid start the film rapidly loses its way. Director José María Cicala has a surfeit of visual ideas and one gets the impression that he was so determined to cram them all in that he sacrificed the story. What remains of it is incoherent at best and spread rather thinly around flashbacks which seek to explain Gato’s past. All too quickly, the three protagonists are separated, which means we’re deprived of the interesting chemistry between them. Understandably unhappy about her father’s deception, Emma retreats into a resentful teenage stereotype. Gato rushes about being heroic and getting in trouble whilst Sombra, having guessed that that would happen, goes on a side quest with a group of drag queens and eventually tries to save the day by way of some kind of song and dance number.
It’s all very handsomely shot, with a feisty soundtrack and ebullient sense of humour, but too often it feels as if it’s just being quirky for the sake of it, especially when it has transparently run out of narrative ideas. There is clear talent on display nonetheless, and the film hit the spot with some fans at 2021's Frightfest. One hopes that Cicala will find the right team next time around to keep him on track, because his creative imagination clearly has something special to contribute to cinema.Reviewed on: 06 Sep 2021