Mexican filmmaker Amat Escalante has carved out a niche with his genre-bending directorial style and shocking subject matter. Known for mesmerizing sci-fi drama “The Untamed” and brutal crime flick “Heli” which snagged the Best Director prize at Cannes, Escalante likes to keep us on our toes. His latest offering, “Lost in the Night,” sees the visionary director try his hand at a detective story with a healthy dose of quirky eccentricity.
The premise finds a young man named Emiliano seeking answers about his activist mother’s disappearance. His investigation leads him to work as a handyman for an affluent family he suspects knows more than they let on. What follows is part mystery, part character study, with Escalante veering into absurdity while tackling weighty themes like corruption, trauma, and the callousness of the elite.
Fans eager to see the filmmaker get provocative will likely be intrigued, while anyone looking for a straightforward thriller may end up baffled. Love him or hate him, Escalante refuses to color within the lines. So buckle up for a bizarre ride where the only thing we know for sure is that we can’t take anything at face value.
Uncovering the Truth
When his activist mother Paloma disappears after protesting the establishment of a controversial mine, Emiliano is frustrated by the lack of answers. Three years later, a dying cop’s confession sends the young man searching for clues at the home of a wealthy family he suspects may be involved.
He takes a job as their handyman, observantly eyeing the eccentric residents of the cold modernist mansion. There’s provocative mixed-media artist Rigoberto, famed for incorporating dead bodies into his work. His celebrity singer wife Carmen oozes ennui, while their daughter Mónica seeks attention by live-streaming fake suicide attempts.
As Emiliano sniffs around the spacious property, he senses the family’s indulgent lifestyle hides a poisonous underside. His suspicions grow when he learns of Rigoberto’s association with a shady cop who was on duty the night the activists vanished.
Even as the household pulls Emiliano into their dizzying dysfunction, his investigation unveils unsettling secrets. Yet Escalante repeatedly subverts expectations – those initially deemed “bad guys” are given chances at remorse, while violence simmers on all sides.
Parallel subplots add intrigue but also veer the story off-course. A religious cult targets Rigoberto over his controversial art. And Emiliano finds his bond with supportive girlfriend Jazmín tested by Mónica’s provocative behavior. Still, Escalante’s genre-defying twists ensure we never quite know what’s coming next on this dark, perplexing quest.
Probing the Darkness
Escalante uses the suspenseful premise to spotlight provocative themes bubbling under the surface of Mexican society. Class inequality permeates the story, with elite indulgence contrasted by rural poverty. The lack of consequences for the powerful casts a damning light on systemic corruption.
The film explores how personal trauma becomes commodified, packaged as art or content. Rigoberto profits from incorporating dead bodies into his works, while self-victimizing daughter Mónica racks up social media views from her mock suicides. Their dramatic antics stand opposed to Emiliano’s quiet rage over his mother’s unsolved fate.
True to form, Escalante frequently subverts expectations. Just when we think we’ve figured out the villains, they’re given chances at redemption. Those who crave tragedy eventually find it at their doorstep. Absurdity and extremism co-mingle with chilling familiarity.
Visually, static camera shots soak up the tension between stillness and erupting chaos. Screams pierce placid exteriors, violence rips through quiet moments. The minimalist mansion intrudes on the sun-bleached landscape, hinting at the rot hiding behind sleek surfaces.
While genre-wise Lost in the Night utilizes elements of mystery, thriller and drama, it escapes easy categorization. Escalante seems less interested in tidy resolutions than in sitting us uncomfortably within society’s contradictions. Just like his characters, viewers chase clarity but end up lost in the fog.
Standout Talent On and Off Screen
Juan Daniel García Treviño turns in an affecting lead performance as Emiliano, conveying simmering anger and frustration. Mafer Osio brings warmth as his loving girlfriend Jazmín, an oasis amidst the dysfunction.
Fernando Bonilla strikes an intriguing balance as temperamental artist Rigoberto, stopping just short of cartoonish supervillain territory. His attention-hungry wife and daughter, played by Bárbara Mori and Ester Expósito, seem locked in a contest over who can be the most overdramatic.
The actors embody the contrast between grounded working class characters and the histrionic, patronizing elite. Emiliano’s quiet rage stands opposed to the wealthy family’s theatrical meltdowns.
Technically, cinematographer Adrián Durazo makes striking use of negative space in pristine widescreen compositions. The foreboding modernist mansion intrudes visually just as the family disrupts Emiliano’s quest. Durazo’s camerawork soaks up the discordant atmosphere.
Likewise, the ominous synthesized score by Stranger Things composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein maintains tension between pulsating chaos and drone-like calm. Sonic outbursts shatter the silence, mirroring the ruptures of violence in Escalante’s carefully constructed world.
The complementary technical elements work to sustain the film’s sense of unease and disorientation, keeping us entranced even when the plot meanders.
An Ambitious Misfire
Escalante deserves credit for the scope of his vision, tackling complex themes of corruption, trauma, environmental destruction, and the failings of authority. However, the expansive narrative leaves some provocative plot threads underserved.
In exploring Emiliano’s activist mother and the implications of the contested mine, the story hints at deeper issues impacting rural communities. Yet these promising elements fade into the background as the focus shifts to the family’s interconnected melodramas.
Similarly, after a patient build-up emphasizing the mystery, the climax provides minimal catharsis. The conclusion touches on the impunity enabling the powerful to exonerate themselves, but lacks narrative payoff after such a deliberate slow burn.
Tonally, Escalante moves away from the shocking violence and perversity of earlier films like Heli and The Untamed. While likely more accessible to mainstream audiences, it feels like a dilution of his signature shocking style. There’s ambition to spare, but without the daring creative chops to fully realize the expansive vision.
That said, Lost in the Night showcases Escalante’s skill at creating indelible characters. As the oblivious, patronizing artist, Rigoberto highlights out-of-touch elites who co-opt the struggles of the working class for their own aggrandizement. His insensitive proposition to incorporate Emiliano’s grief into an art installation points to people in power profiting from the real trauma of marginalized communities.
In the end, Escalante reaches for the stars but falls short of early festival expectations. It’s an intriguing misfire from a director known for sadism, sci-fi and strange. Die-hard fans should appreciate another eccentric, genre-smashing effort, even if it lacks the razor-sharp focus of his finest work.
A Strange Trip Worth Taking
In the end, Lost in the Night remains an intriguing enigma that escapes pat classifications. It may meander and miss some marks, but Escalante’s singular voice and vigilant camera give us much to chew on.
As a mystery-thriller, the drawn-out climax lacks satisfying resolution. The expansive themes of corruption and class dynamics cry out for tighter focus in the wandering plot. Festival competition snubs were understandable.
Yet the paradoxes and loose ends feel true to life in Mexico, where answers seldom come easy. Even when the pacing lags, Escalante’s composed visual style and the film’s pervading mood of unease keep us locked in.
For those along for his eccentric ride, Escalante offers plenty to unpack with gender dynamics, social media obsession, and the ethics of art. Ambitious attempts to capture a society in moral turmoil don’t fully connect, but audacity earns some grace.
While unlikely to blast open the doors for mainstream crowds, Lost in the Night will certainly find its defenders in art house circles. Love it or hate it, Escalante remains a bold visionary unafraid to confound expectations. Even his misfires bear the mark of a vigilant, reactive talent reacting against conformity. This trip may leave some viewers lost, but others will surely want to sign up for his next unconventional journey into the night.
Lost in the Night
Though the story stretches itself thin juggling multiple complex themes, Escalante continues to showcase his vigilant directorial eye and knack for boldly subversive storytelling. Even when the plot meanders, his stylistic flair and emotionally resonant performances hold our attention. Lost in the Night may leave some viewers frustrated, but Escalante fans along for the challenging ride will find rewards wrestling with the unsettling paradoxes.
- Strong lead performance from Juan Daniel García Treviño
- Distinctive visual style and cinematography
- Intriguing themes related to corruption, power dynamics, art and ethics
- Escalante's bold directing and genre-bending narrative
- Plot stretches itself too thin
- Unsatisfying payoff and resolution
- Lacks narrative tension
- Not as shocking or provocative as some of director's previous films