Rooms for Tourists (2004) - This very low budget Argentinian film by Adrian Garcia Boliano is a horror film through and through. The idea of religious people deciding who deserves life and who does not is an interesting contradiction in this film. Done in black and white with a deep throbbing score the film presents a frightening mood that is thick compelling. Its imagery if stark and scary with the main character Theda (Elena Siritto) having visions of brutal acts. Little do we know that those initial dreams all will tie into the story about to unfold. Film making wise it is a clever trick, while it seems completely unrelated at least for a while each of these scenes of torture and death are later revealed to be a history of the village the film takes place in. Theda is a nervous wreak and is jumpy from the start obviously out of her element. When she and four other girls have to get a connecting train in a small town they are thrown into events connected to their unbeknown shared secret.
The first most striking thing about this film is how the music makes interaction with the locals very ominous. Instead of watching people go about normal interactions about train schedules that we would think is nothing, instead there is a pall, an idea the music gives us that things are not right in this village. When they see the local church and the ultra conservative preacher delivering his hell for sinners sermon they are all a bit more on edge. Theda's nerves actually help her in this film. She is so worried about having missed the connecting train that she starts to look for a phone to call home. She manages to call her father early in the film but can only leave a message for him to call her back at 7 am but will she survive the night?
Low angle shot camera shots and shadows which are more engaging in black and white add to the horror feel of the film. When five young women miss their connecting train they are thrown together and offered rooms at a local house. In this small town the populous is devout in their following of the fire and brimstone preacher you know that it will effect these young ladies before the film is over. At this point I am thinking more of Children of the Corn where people from the outside come into a small town and are put in jeopardy.When we learn that Elena is struggling with the fact that she is pregnant we are given a hint to the mystery. Taking the rooms in the house and after a ominous dinner with the moralizing preacher we are set for the action.
When film student Silvia (Mariela Mujica) is murdered with a cleaver in a wonderfully gruesome scene the remaining girls suddenly realize that it may be too late to escape the same fate. Finding the house boarded up and all the doors locked the young women must try to find a way to survive the night. Blonde and naive Ruth (Brenda Vera) struggles with her emotions and soon has more than the dark to worry about. Punk girl Lydia (Victoria Witemberg) saves the day but how long can the women's luck hold. Played in the closed up house with lights turned off the with only small lighting sources the film builds a nice claustrophobic feel. Add in tricks and booby traps of the locals and you have a fairly suspenseful little horror film.
Director Boliano does a nice job in the writing with brother Romero Garcia Boliano to have the characters fight for survival not be too predictable. The girls for the most part stick together and try to problem solve the situation. They use there small group to fight back so the film does not end up feeling like a slaughterfest. It is always a plus to have strong female characters something a lot of male writers seem to have a problem writing. The nice saved at the last minute conclusion in the town was a bit on the nose but certainly set up early in the film. Then the conclusion reenforces the well thought out early imagery. The director does a really nice job making this a suspenseful and ultimately enjoyable little film. I have always found overly religious people just a bit scary and this film does everything to solidify those feelings. The music is excellent by Rodrigo Franco and the skill of this new writing tandem shows through. Now I have to note that this is far from a Hollywood film so there is no gloss to be found. My recommendation comes as a lover of horror. I have to be critical of micro budget horror so often that it is refreshing when someone does it right. Even though this is a subtitled movie (which I know a lot of my readers don't like) and it is really a micro budget, I have to recommend it. In fact since it throws off my vacation horror theme just a bit I think I will end that strand of reviews and focus on the boliano brothers a bit more and review their other two films Cold Sweat and Pnumbra with an eye to catching their latest "Here Comes the Devil" on PFV.