One of the singular pleasures of traveling “Around the World with Netflix” is tumbling into a new mystery thriller from down Argentine Way.
The genre’s practically a cottage industry down there, with “Blood Will Tell (La Misma Sangre),” “Black Snow” and others rolling out, a couple of winners per year suggesting a pretty good batting average in the genre.
The latest from director and co-writer Sebastián Schindel (“The Crimes that Bind”) is a sinister, twisty adaptation of a novel by Guillermo Martínez, who wrote “The Oxford Murders.” Well-acted and downbeat, “The Wrath of God” touches on issues of personal justice and “divine” revenge, all spinning out of a sexual harassment case and ensuing “mysterious” deaths involving a famous writer.
The frame of the story is an incident after a public reading by the novelist Kloster, played by veteran leadning man Diego Peritti with a sort of imperious, “Just give me my due” haughtiness. He’s summoned to an upper balcony of the opera house where he was reading, and once there, somebody dies.
In the film’s long flashback story, we go back years, to when Kloster had a “scribe,” Luciana (Macarena Achaga), a beautiful young coed to whom he’d dictate his fiction, the scribe as “muse,” Kloster says, just the way Henry James wrote his best fiction.
She was also a scribe for aspiring novelist Esteban Rey (Juan Gervasio Minujín of “The Two Popes”) at the time. And then, one day, a line is crossed.
Luciana went from being an indispensable member of a household, friend to Kloster’s little girl and a great help to his highly-strung ex-ballerina wife, to exile who seeks the help of a lawyer.
Rey and Kloster also had history, with one writer seeking the help and approval of the other, and publishing nasty criticism of him when that wasn’t forthcoming.
In the fictive present, Luciana is convinced that Kloster is “murdering my family, one at a time,” that he’s been engaged in this pursuit for a decade, and that the hard-drinking reporter that Rey has become should investigate and expose this “monster.”
Is she right? Flashbacks within the flashback take us to the various deaths and show “coincidences” that put Kloster — in her mind, at least — in the proximity and almost certainly responsible for them.
“No one would ever this huge celebrity would commit murders,” she protests, in Spanish with subtitles or dubbed into the language of your choice if you’re not a Spanish speaker.
Rey is already struggling to write about a string of arsons allegedly tied to Chinese real estate speculation, has been burned by Kloster before and is reluctant. But he starts to report, write and wonder.
Encounters between reporter and accuser and reporter and the accused are fraught and puzzling. Who is telling the truth? Is Rey a clever enough journalist to sort that out?
The “suspicious” deaths pile up, secrets are revealed and we can’t decide if we’re dealing with a paranoid young woman or a cunning, patient killer who figures he has his reasons.
“The Wrath of God” doesn’t really stick the landing with its religious metaphor, the gray area between “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord” and “Nope, I’m taking care of this myself.” Not to me, anyway.
And the story’s messaging is evil in the touchiest sense. Are we to root against the pretty woman whose crime was making an accusation with merit, and got a settlement for it?
That’s kind of the implication as we ponder what might very well be a clever author of genre fiction who might be getting away with murder, a sort of “Talented Mr. Ripley” point of view.
“Wrath” is a downbeat thriller, with only the deaths and a couple of interrogations/debates setting off big sparks. But it’s smart, rewards the attentive viewer and still manages to trip one up about what’s coming, what to expect and what we might be guessing wrong.
And the leads, each playing flawed characters with self-righteous points of view, are especially good at keeping us guessing.
Rating: TV-MA, violence, sexuality
Cast: Diego Peretti, Juan Gervasio Minujín and Macarena Achaga
Credits: Directed by Sebastián Schindel, scripted by Pablo Del Teso, Sebastián Schindel, based on a novel Guillermo Martínez. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:38