A dysfunctional Cuban family is dragged into the depths of cruelty and madness in the extraordinary, slow-burning indie film “Is That You?”
This film explores the depth of horror from more than one perspective.
On one hand, Is That You? is about the very real horrors of abuse, severe and destructive — the kind of abuse so toxic it can destroy the lives of all involved. On the other, it’s a film about the power of evil, so overwhelming it can survive death.
The question is, what is the true meaning of this film, and what will you take away from its ending?
First, let’s explore the film’s storyline. But fair warning, there will be plot spoilers ahead.
The story begins with a poor Cuban family, living in rural Cuba. The father Eduardo (Osvaldo Doimeadiós), keeps his wife Alina (Lynn Cruz) as a prisoner. He keeps her locked in their home and uses her for sex, while forcing her to cook for him and abide by all his rules. The man has fetishes, but his complete domination of his wife and child is disturbing.
The daughter Lili (Gabriela Ramos) accepts her father’s abuse. She has greater freedom than her mother, such as traveling with her father to see a local baseball team play. Lili is so ingrained to her father’s regime that it seems normal for her to have her mother shackled and enslaved by her father. However, Eduardo loves his daughter more, with overtones of possible incest.
Carlos (Jorge Enrique Caballero) plays a man Eduardo hires to store and watch his work equipment in a shed. He knows of the disturbing situation, but being poor and dependent on his job, he avoids the subject. Eduardo is unaware his wife has plans to escape her imprisonment and that Carlos is her helper. After placing a narcotic in her husband’s drink, Eduardo falls asleep.
Alina attempts to escape with her daughter, but Lili instead awakens her father. She is so brainwashed — a smaller female version of Eduardo — so accepting of his rules and his world. Not deterred by her daughter’s behavior, Alina ends her troubles with a violent confrontation with Eduardo, and some help from Carlos. Alina later lies and tells her daughter her father has left them.
Relief for Alina spells heartache for Lili.
Nevertheless, Carlos, her mother’s lover, moves into a more open relationship with Alina. This aggravates Lili. The girl wanders the roads, still in disbelief that her missing father has vanished. She collapses during her long hike in the sweltering Cuban heat. Caridad (Eslinda Nunez), an elderly neighbor, finds Lili and revives the girl. They discuss the young girl’s wishes.
Caridad happens to also be a local bruja/witch. He tries to assist her with a spell to help her and her father. Lili attempts the spell, intending to bring her father back. She pours all her faith into this, doing just as Caridad instructed her. Slowly, she senses his presence and hears her father’s voice. Whether he has returned from the dead as an evil entity or is still very much alive, seeking justice, is unknown.
We view a shadowy figure lurking as Lili talks to him. and he describes his wishes. However, the viewer must decide whether the voice is real and the spirit of Eduardo is real — or if it’s just that the girl’s grief-stricken mind is lost.
Director Rudy Riveron Sanchez takes us on a slow but beautiful voyage.
He introduces us to the lives of poor rural Cubans, almost devoid of modern Western luxuries. This background also explains how the isolation of this family allows such horrific terrors. The extremes of the father spread like a virus. His behavior not only destroys his family but others as well.
It is a slow burner of a film. However, the pacing speeds up from the start, and it does capture your interest as the plot develops.
The film was very atmospheric, like the Coen Brothers’ classic Blood Simple, with a minimalist background and only a few actors. The identity issue provided an interesting analogy of the eternal struggle between young adults and their parents. We all start life as little versions of our parents. But as we develop into adults, we develop our own thoughts and identities, separate from our parents.
Eres delivers twofold horror: Lili is so isolated from others and controlled. Thus, she never gets the chance to become herself. And whether she brought forth her father’s ghost or not doesn’t matter. Regardless, he controls her.
Is That You? won’t be a film for action horror fans. Rather, it is a thought-provoking psychological horror film — a quiet film, of slow movement and mental trauma.
It grows on you and gets under your skin, and as you are taken over by the great cinematography and careful pace. It’s this deliberate approach that gives the film a sense of palpable dread. It’s not a friendly movie. Eres manages to create a miniature version of hell, giving the viewer a voyeuristic look at true darkness.