Fantastic Fest Review: ROCK, PAPER, AND SCISSORS Is A Twisted Chamber Piece
Argentinian directors Martín Blousson and Macarena García Lenzi deliver a twisted chamber piece full of family dysfunction with their debut, Rock, Paper, and Scissors (Piedra, Apel y Tijera). The film takes a small story about a sibling power struggle and churns it into a quietly engaging and charmingly odd three-hander with a decent set of fangs.
Jesus and Maria José live together in the house that belonged to their recently deceased father. Their routine is disrupted when Magdalena, their half sister on their dad’s side, returns from Spain asking for her share of the inheritance. They don’t want to sell the house and in order to keep it they will deliver a series of sick games where it won’t be easy to define who has the rock, the paper or the scissors.
Rock, Paper, and Scissors combines complex family ties, mental instabilities, resentments, fantasies, illusions and their respective disappointments, along with revenge, and cages them all under one room, creating a claustrophobic pressure cooker that ends with a bang. Its title is not just a game that is played in the film, but a metaphor for the dynamic amongst its three central figures and how no one individual holds total power, which makes for some strong conflicts and some great moments of tension that are just a little too far and few between.
It sags a bit in the second act, is a little to conservative with the Jesus and Maria’s backstory, and should have revelled in its climactic chaos just a little bit longer, but this three-hander is full of strong performances, intriguing characters, and the kind of engaging interplay that makes it an overall brisk and entertaining watch. It’s kind of like Misery meets Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? with a dash of Psycho in the style of Yorgos Lanthimos, which is certainly a fascinating combination. Unfortunately, some of its best beats and most powerful moments are cut straight from Misery’s cloth, which undercuts their surprise and impact, but it also brings a nice family entanglement element that sets it apart and makes its narrative more delectably complex.
It’s a small budget movie (even for Argentine standards), but it doesn’t feel cheap. The set and production design really stretch the budget and give it a layer of added richness. The house is a beautiful eye candy full of lovely architecture and furnishings, and the set design gives it a dingy, lived in feel with an emphasis on earth-tone colors that is both charming and repugnant (in a good way).
The film maintains a level of seriousness that is perfectly counterbalanced by the odd moments peppered throughout, which stem from the DIY Wizard of Oz themed horror videos that Jesus makes in the basement. It seems to be having the most fun during these scenes, which really makes them stand out and shine a bit brighter. However, the Wizard of Oz motif is a bit overused and becomes too heavy handed, an ironic permeation that twists the notion that there’s “nowhere like home.”
Blousson and García Lenzi craft a solid debut that shows their a duo worth watching. Their style seems to favor long takes, which give a lot of power to the performers, but they also know the impact of a good close up, cutting at integral moments to give the performances more shine. Despite the budgetary restraints, they fill the film’s runtime with a lot of effective and ambitious camera moves, which make the quietly roiling chamber piece that much more engaging.
Rock, Paper, and Scissors is a slow burn about human greed, the turmoil and strain familial relationships can have, and the twisted games family members play. It suffers from slight pacing issues and narrative blemishes, but it builds toward a bloody climax that was worth the wait. It does leave more to be desired though. In particular, probing and exploring the characters’ backstories a bit more would have helped enhance its impact, but it’s a quick and entertaining watch that gives genre lovers two promising new filmmakers to keep their eyes on.
Recommendation: If you love twisted family dramas set in a tense, pressure-cooker environment, definitely keep an eye out for this one and give it a watch.
Rating: 3 blinks outta 5.
What do you think? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!