Monday, October 21, 2019

BHFF ’19: The Yellow Night

Maybe it is a coincidence, but this film produced with funding from Petrobras, Brazil’s petroleum consortium, spends a long flashback in the parking lot of a gas station. At least the behavior of the teen characters makes sense there. In contrast, logic craters into dust when they decide to take a short holiday on a sparsely inhabited equatorial island. Supposedly what happens reflects their fear of the future, but they probably don’t have one to look forward to in Ramon Porto Mota’s The Yellow Night, which had its North American premiere at the 2019 Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.

There are not a lot of people living on Arco Velho, but the beaches are nice and Mariana’s grandfather has a house there. Of course, wireless service is kaput and the statue by the harbor has been decapitated, but they remain undeterred, even when their no-show ride leaves them stranded at the nearly deserted dock. Eventually, they make their way to Grandfather’s house, but he is nowhere to be found. By now, we can tell this is a bad situation, but for some reason they can’t. They even stick around after watching a suspicious VHS tape, in which the missing grandpa discusses his quantum mechanical research and how it was driving him bonkers. Instead of fleeing, they revisit happier times in the gas station parking lot.

To give credit where it is due, Porto makes inventive use of split-screens and cinematographer Flora Dias lights it all in ways that maximize the eeriness and the nagging sense of uncertainty. However, the film is maddeningly coy in the way it presents its time loops—at least we’re assuming that is what is happening, since it would be consistent with all of Grandpa’s quantum double-talk.

Films like Benson & Moorhead’s The Endless and Jon Mikel Caballero’s The Incredible Shrinking WKND maintained plenty of mystery and suspense, but they always kept viewers keenly aware of where they were in each loop. In contrast, everything just sloshes around in Yellow Night, like the characters are waiting Pirandello-like, for a stronger editor to come along and re-establish some order.

Among the characters, Karina is the rebellious one who sort of seems to have the “shine.” The rest are just stupid teens, who really do not have anything to distinguish themselves. Not even Rana Sui makes any lasting impression as Karina, but she has a bit of an excuse, since her character mysteriously disappears for a large stretch of time.

It is great when genre movies get aesthetically ambitious, but if they are horror movies, they still need to be scary. Films like Nikolas List’s under-appreciated Tombville and Tilman Singer’s Luz prove this is not impossible, but Yellow Night reminds us how hard it is to accomplish. Not recommended, Yellow Night had its American premiere this weekend at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.