By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
The South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival is know for its high-profile genre premieres, which this year included Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde, Free Fire, and The Disaster Artist among others, but its actual Narrative Competition award winners tend towards the more independent.
2016’s Narrative Award winner
Most Beautiful Island, this year’s big winner, is an NYC-set immigrant drama that very quickly turns into a psychological thriller, as a job that sounds too good to be true soon proves to be for Luciana (Ana Asensio).
Perhaps most impressive about this film is that not only does Asensio star, featuring in nearly every (or quite possibly every) frame, but she also wrote the film and directs it.
Despite the multiple hats she wears in this film’s production, she shies away from the simple or the straightforward. The story is very surreal, between what characters do for a living (the chicken flyers scene followed by them throwing away their costumes in a bathroom), the imagery (cockroaches exploding through the wall and drowning in a bathtub in close-up), and what dangerous game the characters get drawn into (the anticipation is half the fun here, so I’ll leave that a secret).
Style-wise, the oblique, hand-held cinematography puts you on edge, but still finds spots of beauty in non-traditionally beautiful NYC environs, and the editing is set on engineering the maximum tension it can, especially in the film’s breathlessly fast final 3o minutes.
Finally, Larry Fessenden, aka Jack Nicholson’s depraved younger brother, is always a welcome presence and a great sign of genre bona fides.
The bathroom scene is a big overwrought, and I can’t begin to fathom what her plan was there. Seduce the guy to let her go, but you know, without any touching? In general, doesn’t seem like she thinks a lot of things through, which, of course, is how a plot like this has to work, I suppose.
Most Beautiful Island is a quick and dirty thriller in the guise of a immigrant drama that will keep you on your toes.
Most Beautiful Island (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for insects
Take a Drink: for red flags
Take a Drink: whenever Luciana pulls a fast one
Do a Shot: Hey, that’s the title!
Do a Shot: for each round of The Game