Review by Sean Boelman
Gonzalo Calzada’s Nocturna is being released as a double bill, almost as if they were side A and B to a record, but it’s arguably more accurate to think of it as a letter with a postscript. Effective, if not particularly original, Calzada’s film is a solid psychological thriller exploring themes already frequently discussed.
The film takes place on the last night of a hundred-year-old man as he loses his grip on reality and must come to terms with his own guilt and remorse. There have been plenty of films that have focused on a character losing their mind to dementia, but Calzada seems to think it is a novel idea to make a genre film out of it.
The first part, entitled The Great Old Man’s Night, is a straightforward horror picture with a melodramatic tinge to it. There are some jump scares, but a majority of the film is more atmospheric and sorrowful. It’s not quite substantial enough to work as art horror, but far from scary enough to work in that regard.
Where The Elephants Go to Die is much more cerebral and experimental in nature, and while it’s much less agreeable than its companion piece, it’s also the more ambitious piece. But while side A can stand alone, the context is necessary for the shorter and more intriguing second portion to work.
Side B is also much more stylistically distinctive. Although there is some solid suspense in the first part, the second part is shot in a way that is meant to replicate old home movies, giving it an even more intimate and entracting feel. And the lack of jump scares in the second half allows the poeticism of the script to really dominate.
That said, there are definitely some things about the films that feel amateurish. It’s clear that there isn’t the biggest effects budget here, as a lot of the spectral moments don’t look super impressive. And the subtitles are rife with typos as well as phrases that are poorly translated in a way that loses some of the impact of the source material.
Pepe Soriano’s leading performance is a lot of what makes the film work. He captures the character’s spiral in a way that is both entirely believable and quite disturbing. Marilú Marini also gives a strong turn, although this is so often Soriano’s show, even in side B, in which her role is expanded.
Nocturna is certainly ambitious for what it is, and mostly works well, even if side B is clearly superior. Neither portion is bad, although there is clearly one that is more memorable and unique than the other.
Nocturna hits VOD on January 18.