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Once you get past its slow chugging first half, The Hidden Face picks up enough steam to freewheel you into its roller-coaster ending.
Dubbed in English and re-named from its original Spanish title La Cara Oculta, The Hidden Face is a decent thriller if you have the patience to endure its lackluster first half. Moreover, there is every possibility that this film could be interpreted as a spooky ghost story, as perhaps intended by writer/director Andrés Baiz. To truly appreciate this thriller, I strongly caution against watching the trailer or reading other reviews that include one of the film's best kept secrets.
The plot plays out in two parts, each from a different perspective that converges into a series of twists and turns before the finale. At the beginning of the first part, we are introduced to Adrian (Quim Gutiérrez), a successful Spanish Orchestra conductor hired by the Bogota Philharmonic Orchestra in Columbia. Dumped by his girlfriend Belen (Clara Lago), Adrian wallows in dejection at a local pub but is charmed by the affections of a waitress, Fabiana (Martina García). They hit it off and before you know it, Fabiana moves in with Adrian, even as the police begin investigating Belen's sudden disappearance. Sure enough, before Fabiana gets too comfortable, she discovers something odd about Adrian's plush residence. Before long, Fabiana is plagued with a nagging sensation and suspects foul play behind Belen's disappearance. The second part is essentially a chronological prelude that places Adrian and Belen during happier times. Moving to Bogota from Spain, they take up residence in a charming little cottage but Belen suspects Adrian to be a two timing womanizer. Like a curious cat, Belen sets a trap to expose Adrian, but inadvertently sets about a chain of events, and in the process, seals her own fate.
Dubbing this Spanish film into English would not have been such a bad idea if it weren't for the terrible voice acting. As such, Baiz has had to compromise on what I imagine would have been a dark and brooding thriller-noir. The premise is intriguing but starts off like a slow chugging steam propelled locomotive. Baiz also throws you every cliché in the book from power cuts to sudden thunder claps, including creepy bathroom scenes akin to those found in Japanese horror movies. Even so, anyone who has seen What Lies Beneath will be in for a surprise by the time the plot gets to its darker second half. Not only does it become obvious that Baiz uses the first half to throw you off course, this is where his engine picks up enough steam to freewheel you into the roller-coaster ending. Like a two punch combo, when the mystery behind Belen's disappearance is revealed, it hits you like a stunning jab and hook in quick succession. In shifting the premise from mystery to survival, this is where Clara Lago comes in and singlehandedly delivers a suspenseful third act. On the other hand, Gutiérrez's Adrian is a mere meh you are never sure if he is hiding something or if he is ominous by nature.
For the most part, Baiz's dependence on just three central characters pays off; more so as this film appears to have been made on a shoe-string budget. There is a distinct style exerted by the director and I liked how it drew me in from a soap-opera like beginning through to its frantic final moments. With Gutiérrez sidelined, the rest of the story becomes a race to the finish thanks to García and Lago. In doing so, both of their characters are effective in echoing the idiom "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned".
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