Thursday, October 16, 2008

Trouble in Paradise - Rodrigo Plá's La Zona

La Zona. Not a nice place to visit, and you wouldn't want to live there.

A butterfly gently floats over swathes of white picket fences, immaculate lawns and contented suburbanites. A perfect domestic idyll.

And then the delicate little butterfly has to go and incinerate itself on an electrified barbed wire security fence keeping a crowded, polluted, run-down and corrupt Mexico City at bay.

Stupid butterfly.

But in the first few silent minutes, Plá has quickly and efficiently set out his stall, making it apparent that he's taken a few notes from the David Lynch playbook - a spotless utopia only exists as an anodyne mask to hide something dark and rotten just nestled beneath the surface.

During a thunder storm, a falling billboard causes a brief power outage, giving four opportunistic thieves the chance to breach the heavily-fortified gated community of La Zona. But a botched robbery is only the beginning of the shitstorm that's unleashed, as the fragile veneer of the civilised middle-class residents starts to disintegrate to reveal the true extent of their own dysfunctional, destructive, self-serving and poisonous natures. It's Lord of the Flies time in La Zona. Cue screaming, running, shooting, bleeding...

If George A. Romero's Land of the Dead taught us anything, it's that a residential oasis locking out monsters doesn't work, because it doesn't solve the problem of protecting you from the monsters on the inside of the perimeter.

Capturing the corrosive and ultimately selfish paranoia of the middle-class in a way that would make this a great double-bill with Michael Haneke's Hidden, Plá's movie never backs down or pussies out. Everyone is culpable and everyone is guilty. You can wait as long as you want to breath a cathartic sigh of relief, but there is no heroism or redemptive moment to send you out of the cinema back into a world where all is safe and well. Hard, bleak and unforgiving, La Zona is a terrifically-tense thriller that says more than you might like about the world that we all live in. Go see it.

Plá's second film, The Desert Within, is showing at the London film festival later this month.

La Zona is released by Soda Pictures on 17 October.