Claustrophobic, minimalist and deliciously macabre, “Rock, Paper, Scissors” is an Argentine variation on the paranoid excesses of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” or “Misery.”
Well-acted and properly gloomy, if a tad predictable, it starts off dark and turns pitch-black in an instant as an often harrowing tale of sibling rivalry and old grudges plays out.
The door is buzzing incessantly, but siblings María José (Valeria Giocelli) and Jesús (Pablo Sigal) can’t tear themselves away from “The Wizard of Oz” (dubbed into Spanish) on TV. They have to “Piedra, Papel, Tijera” (rock, paper, scissors) to decide who finally gets the door.
It’s their half-sister from Spain, Magdalena (Agustina Cerviño)! “You should have called,” they chirp (in Spanish with English subtitles). But she did. The phone’s unplugged.
“People mean to help, but they can be a nuisance.”
She doesn’t want to put anybody out so she’s made a reservation at a hotel. There’s been a death. Their shared father left “No will?” Well, we’ll settle everything up, take care of paperwork. Probably need to sell the house and split the proceeds, OK?
That’s when Magdalena falls down the stairs. When she wakes up to the sound of devout María José’s fervent prayers, she’s in a hospital bed that their Dad used to use, she’s bandaged up and in a neck brace. And she’s sure one of them pushed her, and accuses the “psycho” sister the first time she and Jesús are alone.
Will he help? Was he in on it? How can she know? She should call for help, but her phone won’t charge. Screams blast out into void, not clearing the walls of the house.
“Sometimes we need to scream for God to hear us,” her sister coos.
Not to worry, the family doctor is checking in on her tomorrow. Well, maybe the day after tomorrow. Actually, he’s been held up…
The script unravels little pieces of their shared past and little clues about what’s been going on there since actress Magdalena left for Spain to pursue a different life. Her sister may be psycho, but her brother? He’s an aspiring filmmaker, aka also a little “off.” We see snippets of his dream movie, which confirms it.
Will Magdalena put together the pieces, and will knowing this give her a means of escape?
All we know is that this wasn’t the only time those two have watched “The Wizard of Oz,” and that Dad didn’t die by suicide. But he’d tried it.
Co-directors Martín Blousson and Macarena García Lenzi, making their debut feature, manage some suspense but forget to use the traditional Gothic horror camera angles that tends to heighten it. They rely on revelations, character “tells” and a shifting power and guilt dynamic to pull the viewer in and keep us engaged.
And the occasional shock doesn’t hurt, either.
Cerviño, a dead ringer for a North American actress with whose fame stems from “Argentina” (Patti Lupone, the greatest “Evita”), makes Magdalena an empathetic yet cunning victim. Giorcelli and Sigal have to alternately suggest guilelessness and guilt, and almost manage that.
Maybe you figure it all out more quickly than the filmmakers would have liked, but maybe that doesn’t matter as much as you’d fear. Thanks to all involved, “Misery” has company.
MPA Rating: unrated, graphic violence
Cast: Agustina Cerviño, Valeria Giorcelli and Pablo Sigal.
Credits: Directed by Martín Blousson, Macarena García Lenzi, script by Martín Blousson, Macarena García Lenzi, Julieta García Lenzi and Valentín Javier Diment. A Dark Star release.
Running time: 1:23