Written and directed by Alex Kahuam.
Starring Alejandra Toussaint, Laura de Ita, Alejandra Zaid, Diana Quijano, and Horacio Castelo.
Three women mysteriously wake up in a hospital and discover that one of them is deaf, one is mute, and the other one is blind. Together they will have to figure out why they are there and how to get out.
Touting perhaps the single most attention-grabbing premise of any movie playing at this year’s Frightfest, Alex Kahuam’s (So, You Want to Be a Gangster?) Forgiveness tantalisingly literalises the proverb “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”
Shot back in 2018, one can easily appreciate why this half-fascinating, half-infuriating genre experiment has taken so long to hit screens, primed to intensely divide audiences between those exasperated by and appreciative of its daring, logic-averse throughline.
Kahuam’s film might be best described as a low-fi, stripped down riff on Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, but even that comparison feels inadequate because there’s really nothing else out there quite like Forgiveness. A near-wordless, interpretive dance of a psychological horror film, it divides itself into three chapters, each centered around a different young woman waking up inside a hospital with seemingly no means of escape.
The first girl, Magna (Jessica Ortiz), finds herself unable to speak; the second, Aisha (Alejandra Zaid), is bereft of hearing; and the third, Camila (Alejandra Toussaint), cannot see. Each prisoner attempts to flee their surroundings, while facing off against uniquely disquieting threats from the peculiar figures, both male and female, which stalk the hospital’s hallways.
Sandwiched between a prologue and epilogue which arguably only further confuse the scenario, the bulk of the story unfolds without any dialogue whatsoever, the audience left to infer context from environmental cues – tellingly, there’s an abundance of Christian imagery strewn around the facility – and small slivers of expository dialogue written on notepads. But it’s easy to appreciate that many viewers lured in by the dishy premise might feel short-changed by the terse, repetitive execution.
And yet, there is at least for a time a compulsive watchability to the film, in large part due to its stifling atmosphere – defined by droning synth music and a healthy dollop of neon lighting – and especially the impressively committed, highly physical performances of the three leads.
In addition to the grimy, unvarnished location within which the story’s increasingly unsettling turmoil unfolds, Kahuam displays a keen sense of slick style throughout, cleverly blending long takes together to form immersive quasi-one-rs, and keeping the audience thrown off-kilter with strange, unexpected shifts in colour grading.
Though far from a gore-fest, there is a lot of unpleasantness on display here sure to rub many the wrong way; physical assault and rape are depicted in an uncommonly matter-of-fact manner, and without much concrete context to go on, one couldn’t be blamed for feeling it gratuitous. After all, coming away from Forgiveness, it’s hard to have a clear feeling of what the filmmaker was trying to say, or what it all really means.
Did it sustain my interest? More-or-less, though that’s down far more to the compelling performances of the three leading ladies than the scant story or wilfully obtuse presentation. As a short film this narrative minimalism might’ve passed muster, but in a 90-minute feature it does begin to feel wearisome, and is therefore likely to fully satisfy only the most ardent exploitation fanatics.
Its opaque framing will surely frustrate as many as it enthralls, though three stellar lead actresses make Forgiveness a gruelling ride that isn’t easily forgotten.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.