'Sexennial Plan' ('Plan Sexenal'): Morelia Review
The debut feature of Santiago Cendejas stars Harold Torres and Eduarda Gurrola
A young couple in a nameless Mexico suburb spot a stranger standing outside their home at the beginning of what will turn out to be quite a frightening night in Sexennial Plan (Plan sexenal), a tightly wound domestic thriller with Lynchian touches that’s well-acted, deftly written and atmospherically shot. This feature debut of writer-director Santiago Cendejas, who also edited the film and wrote the music, is shot through with a very unnerving sense of disquiet about life in the Mexican suburbs. It also manages to do a lot with very little, as it’s set over a single night, mostly in a single location and the cast’s composed of just a handful of actors. Though unjustly ignored by the jury at the recent Morelia Film Festival, this highly promising debut feature should be in demand at both general and more genre-oriented festivals before segueing to a click-filled career on VOD.
Young couple Mercedes (Eduarda Gurrola) and Juan (the currently ubiquitous Harold Torres, Gonzalez, Sin Nombre) have just moved into what looks like a quiet new neighborhood in an unnamed Mexican city. They manage to throw a party for their friends despite the fact that the electricity’s gone because they have a generator. A cop calls on them and suggests that the music and lights might make the neighbors jealous but Juan tells him to go away and no, he won’t pay a “deposit” when the policeman asks for one. The message is clear: Juan and his wife are newcomers in the neighborhood and both men try to mark their territory as best they can.
However, a crooked cop turns out to be the least of their troubles. After their guests finally leave, the notice a hooded figure hanging around just in front of their house and he doesn’t seem to move. The only thing they can do? Call the cops. This is the beginning of a nightmarish evening for the duo, as the film transforms itself into a creepy home invasion thriller that seems to operate on a level of reality akin to dreams (or, rather, nightmares).
Viewers that prefer clear-cut narratives that neatly explain everything will be disappointed with especially the final reel, which makes sense only as a hallucination, an ugly reverie or an appalling physical manifestation of the characters’ inner fears about couplehood, suburbia and life in a country sharply divided between the haves and the have-nots. Arthouse audiences, on the other hand, will willingly share the increasing paranoia of the characters as things gradually spin out of control. A late, revelatory bathroom scene involving Mercedes and the stranger recalls Psycho’s not for what happens or how it’s cut but simply for its sheer and dazzling intensity.
All the technical contributions are extremely well handled, especially for a first feature. The film’s score, composed by Cendejas himself, goes into eerie noises mode from the moment Juan tries to fight the stranger outside their home, and imbues the proceedings with a moody sense of dread. The grainy, almost constantly penumbral 16mm camerawork of talented cinematographer Jose Stempa, meanwhile, further helps suggest how there’s nowhere to hide if the shadows are closing in on you and are all potentially filled with danger.
Production company: Makina
Cast: Harold Torres, Adrian Garcia, Eduarda Gurrola, Noe Hernandez, Raul Villegas
Writer-Director: Santiago Cendejas
Producer: Santiago Cendejas, Gerardo Naranjo
Director of photography: Jose Stempa
Production designer: Lourdes Oyanguren
Costume designer: Hanna Shea
Editor: Santiago Cendejas
Music: Santiago Cendejas
No rating, 86 minutes