Mexico’s Isaac Ezban is two for two with his follow-up to his 2014 gripping psychological thriller The Incident. Combining equal parts 50’s sci-fi b-movies and lost Twilight Zone episodes, The Similars is an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek black comedy with just the right amount of gore. Right from the start writer/director Ezban revels in the trappings of 60s aesthetics, opening with a Saul Bass-style credit sequence, a Bernard Herrmann-inspired score, a soundtrack that includes classic surf music and a voiceover that brings to mind The Outer Limits.
The Similars begins with a very simple set up as an omniscient narrator fills us in on how a bunch of strangers came together (by chance or fate) to the desolate bus station which serves as the only location in the lean 89-minute feature. The year is 1968 and a heavy rainstorm descends upon a small town just five hours outside of Mexico City. A group of strangers finds themselves trapped by the storm when they all try to catch a bus into the big city. The first person we meet is Martin (Fernando Becerril) the station’s clerk who’s waiting out his last days until retirement and Rosa, the cleaning lady. Next, we meet Ulises (Gustavo Sánchez Parra) who is desperately trying to get back home to his wife who is giving birth in a hospital. The buses are delayed because of the weather and Ulises is having trouble getting a decent connection on the old pay phone. We are then introduced to an elderly woman who doesn’t speak Spanish and the eight-month pregnant Irene (Cassandra Ciangherotti) who just left her abusive husband back home. The last three people to arrive in a taxi are a young medical student, a protective mother (Carmen Beato) and her creepy son (Santiago Torres). With all the players present and accounted for, strange things start happening.
Imagine one day you look in a mirror and you don’t recognize yourself. Now imagine you, and everyone else in the world all has the same face. That is the setup for The Similars, a psychological thriller about a group of strangers held up in a bus station out in the middle of nowhere who suddenly all look alike. Women, men, children — everyone including people featured in photographs and magazine all have their faces transformed to look like an elderly Mexican man. As expected, chaos ensues and the confused and frightened cast of players look for answers to explain the unearthly turn of events.
Anybody who’s seen The Twilight Zone episode titled “Number 12 Looks Just Like You,” might know what to expect … sort of. The Similars is clearly inspired by the American television anthology series, but the film isn’t really about conformity or superficiality like that episode. The Similars instead has more in common with Brian De Palma’s Carrie and Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Ezban has fun referencing everything from Darkman to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (and so much more). The action recalls different cinematic styles, specifically film noir — and in one of the most memorable scenes, Ezban uses the dolly zoom (made famous in Vertigo) to great effect. But The Similars is more than just a pastiche of cinematic influences. This horror homage about identical people has more wit, pathos and visual flamboyance than the average low-budget contemporary thriller and deserves credit for trying something fresh in the psychological thriller realm. For what is essentially a chamber piece, The Similars is consistently lively — a B-movie horror-comedy, brought to life by a great cast, a simple premise, and taut direction.
Ezban has indeed avoided the sophomore jinx with this well-crafted tale of mystery that features more than its share of chills and thrills. And I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next!
– Ricky D