Towards Darkness (Peace Arch, 2007) D: José Antonio Negret, w/ Roberto Urbina, America Ferrera. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNN
Closing titles tells us that in Colombia somebody is kidnapped every three hours and that one in 10 victims is never heard from again. The movie tells us about what could be the last 90 minutes in one victim's life.
José Gutierrez (Roberto Urbina), a nice middle-?class university student, lies bound, gagged and blindfolded on a bathroom floor. At his parents' house, private security consultant John King (William Atherton) remote-?controls a black ops team zeroing in on a phone signal and ex-?FBI agent Charlie Bain (David Sutcliffe), racing across town with the ransom money. At the same time, the kidnappers make their own moves.
The tense suspense structure allows first-?time director José Antonio Negret to dig into everybody's story. We find out what got the kidnappers into this and what they face if it goes wrong, how José's father raised the money, how Charlie got from the FBI to here.
Much of this adds to the tension, but some is mere backstory, and Charlie's feels like purest Hollywood hokum, sadly undermining the strong realism Negret achieves with hand-?held camera, choppy editing and locations.
You'd never know this was shot in 23 days on $500,000. It's filled with aerial shots, a car chase, lively urban exteriors, some jungle, lots of locations and loads of key characters. Negret's commentary and the making-?of doc are good on the rigours of low-?rent location shooting.
America Ferrera (from Ugly Betty) fits seamlessly into the strong South and Central American cast. Fernando Solórzano is particularly effective as villainous Umberto, his presence enhanced by snaky camera moves.
Negret's original short, which launched the feature, is included in the extras, and tells a 12-?minute version of the same basic story. The sound keeps dropping out, but that's more an annoyance than a movie-?killer, which is a tribute to Negret's visual skills.
EXTRAS Director commentary, making-?of doc, original short film. Widescreen. English and Spanish audio and subtitles.