'Is That You?' ('Eres Tu, Papa?'): Film Review

Courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures
A sincere but very slow-moving ghost story.
8/2/2019

Rudy Riveron Sanchez's Cuba-set horror film watches a girl deal with the loss of her abusive father.

A rare horror film shot in Cuba, Rudy Riveron Sanchez's Is That You? offers an unusual take on domestic abuse and filial loyalty: When her abusive father disappears, a teenage girl can't accept the loss, going so far as to try to conjure the ghost of a man she doesn't realize her mother killed. The first-time filmmaker (a Cuban who moved to the U.K. for film school) is deeply committed to the seriousness of his tale, but seems to feel a leaden pace is the only way to do it justice. The result is a movie much easier to respect than to enjoy.

Gabriela Ramos is Lili, who lives in a remote shack and seems to accept the strange state of things there: While her father Eduardo (Osvaldo Doimeadios) goes out during the day with his mobile shoe-repair cart, mother Alina (Lynn Cruz) is left at home with her ankles tied together, barely able to move enough to do chores. She isn't allowed to eat meals she cooks with the family, and is subject to jealous beatings — "You turned me into this," Eduardo says as he punishes her for unspecified transgressions. Though Lili wants her mother's punishment to come to an end, the calmness of her requests (made while father and daughter are spending pleasant time alone together) makes it clear she accepts Eduardo's authority on the matter. All three move quietly around each other in the small house, inching through the frame with little affect, and only Alina's slowness seems to be hiding a desire to flee. Not far from here, Eduardo's sometime workmate Carlos (Jorge Enrique Caballero) cautiously prods him about his wife's whereabouts, seeming to know something is going on.

Then Eduardo disappears, and Lili, correctly assuming he's dead, goes to a local spirit-healer for assistance. The woman (Eslinda Nunez) gives her an egg, telling the girl to keep it in a bowl and speak to it as if it were her father. Eventually the egg talks back.

The film embraces some ghost-story conventions, with ambiguous shadows and voices suggesting a presence before Sanchez is ready to commit (if he ever is) to answering an unstated question: Has Lili in fact brought the dead man back into the world, or is his spirit possessing her? And if the latter, is it a supernatural possession or a psychological phenomenon?

Though it will strike many viewers as an unsettling way to explore the psychic trauma of abuse, the unfolding plot has limited power to frighten us, with little action interrupting Sanchez's glacial pace. The pic would be completely digestible if run at double speed, and some scenes would still be sluggish. Sanchez accepts Lili's misplaced loyalties as a given, never investigating them, and shows even less curiosity when it comes to her mother's experience. Still, the girl's slow embrace of her father's role is chilling, and despite her apparent lack of experience, Ramos is up to the job. Overtones of Psycho in the closing scenes will play well with some genre devotees, though for others they'll only hint at the more harrowing paths Is That You? could have taken.

Production company: Eres Tu Papa
Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures
Cast: Gabriela Ramos, Lynn Cruz, Osvaldo Doimeadios, Jorge Enrique Caballero, Eslinda Nunez
Director-screenwriter: Rudy Riveron Sanchez
Producer: Emma Berkofsky
Executive producers: Marina Barabanova, Peter Hampden, Norman Merry
Director of photography: Raul Perez Ureta
Production designer: Onelio Larralde
Costume designer: Yudith Dominguez Mazorra
Editors: Rudy Riveron Sanchez, Aurora Vogeli
Composers: Owain kelly, James Williams
Casting director: Libia Batista

In Spanish
107 minutes