We never shake the feeling that Silva, the “hero” of the Argentine thriller “Al Acecho” (“Furtive”) is up to no good.
He’s shifty, side-eyeing everything and everyone he takes in. He sneaks about on the job as the new ranger at a remote, rundown Argentine provincial wildlife park.
And then there’s the memory of the first scene we see him in, a guy rousted out of bed in a remote island shack by the Federal Police.
Of all the movies on Netflix right now, “Al Acecho” could be the roughest to sit through, especially for animal lovers. It’s about poaching, one of the cruelest things humans do to wildlife — catching animals to sell as exotic pets or to be fed into the maw of Asia’s vast appetite for “folk medicine” or dietary uses.
Here, unsavory locals trap the exotic wildlife on a little-visited park where Silva is put up in a literal shack with no power or running water, where the Land Rovers the skeleton crew watching the place are old, tattered, with busted windshields and no money to replace them.
Silva (Rodrigo De La Serna, a dead ringer for Jeremy Renner) was “reassigned” here after being arrested. And his new boss (Walter Jakob).
“I know why you were sent here.”
We can guess, too. The skulking around starts almost instantly. Silva sneaks about, wanders the edges of “the military area,” sizes up the farm folk who live on this newer park’s boundaries. It used to be a military base and every structure there is an overgrown or tumbledown leftover from that era. Declaring it a “biosphere preserve” stopped the locals from logging it.
But poaching? Silva sees the signs, the traps, and follows the clues. He recognizes them because that might have been why he was suspended from his last park. He knows the MO.
Has he reformed, or is he merely looking for his piece of the action here? When he finds a South American gray fox in a cage, he is sympathetic. But he takes the fox and the cage to his shack, neither freeing it nor reporting it.
We think we have our answer.
Editor (“Escape from Patagonia”) turned director and co-writer Francisco D’Eufemia immerses us in nature and seedy corruption. The slowly-rotting park may have righteous rangers like the fetching Camilla (Belén Blanco). But Silva smells cheats, thieves and opportunists at every turn.
Is the wildlife vet on staff an animal lover? Or is he just working the animal trade angles? The boss? The farmers?
We cling to some hope that Silva might redeem himself, but D’Eufemia makes that a slim hope.
De la Serna is an arresting action presence. He makes Silva seedy, but “bad boy” sexy enough to turn Camilla’s eye. Will she change him? Will the whimpering fox he keeps in a cage soften his heart?
And what will he do when he runs up against the poachers themselves, careless rednecks who catch all sorts of creatures and clumsily let them die of neglect or trauma before they can be sold?
As I said, this picture is rough going for animal lovers. It has a certain quality, as well as some simple coherence issues. I found it as unpleasant as any account of callous people mistreating animals, whatever angle they’re furtively working.
MPA Rating: TV-MA, violence, sex, profanity
Cast:Rodrigo De la Serna, Belén Blanco, Walter Jakob,
Credits: Directed by Francisco D’Eufemia, script by Francisco D’Eufemia, Fernando Krapp. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:21