Shadow of the Cat, 2021.
Directed by José María Cical.
Starring Danny Trejo, Peter O’Brien, Mónica Antonópulos, Clara Kovacic, and Guillermo Zapata.
Gato lives with his teenage daughter Emma and a small group of people on an isolated farm without phone or internet. But Emma, tempted by her curiosity, gets a mobile phone.
While those hoping to see a 77-year-old Danny Trejo blowing away supernatural beasties might be setting themselves up for disappointment with José María Cicala’s feature debut Shadow of the Cat, this beguilingly scattershot, fidgety genre-bending exercise prevails nevertheless.
Gato (Guillermo Zapata) lives on a remote farm with his teenage daughter Emma (Maite Lanata), where without even basic communications tools they’re entirely cut off from the outside world. But once Emma comes into possession of a phone, she’s contacted by a party claiming to be working on behalf of her mother, who her father claimed abandoned her in infancy. Infuriated, Emma heads off on a journey of self-discovery to reconnect with her mother, all while Gato and his best pal Sombra (Danny Trejo) race to rescue her from the grim fate she’s unknowingly heading towards.
This is far from your typical DTV Danny Trejo action flick, that’s for sure, instead delivering its genre-savvy horror thrills alongside a surprisingly diverse palette of moods and tones, including surprisingly sweet family drama and absurdist black comedy.
Cicala opts to cram the first half of the film with hefty flashbacks and cutaways, leavening a slow-burn build up to the more capital-letter genre elements. The precise nature of Gato and Emma’s past is gradually unfurled ahead of a full-tilt wacky survival horror-show of a third act. Neither gut-wrenching tension nor tonal consistency may be in great supply here, but some interesting locations, bizarre visuals, and fun narrative wrinkles ensure those waiting for more outlandish happenings get plenty to snack on.
Cicala’s film is also stylishly produced throughout, Martín Nico’s lensing taking full crisp advantage of the beautiful natural scenery and claustrophobic interiors of Emma’s mother’s fancy abode. The musical score, with contributions from Abril Cicala and Nahuel Maeso, sure is a hoot, employing amusingly diverse selections ranging from country to Carpenter-esque synths, to seemingly intentionally jarring effect at times.
But what keeps the only sometimes-coherent storytelling in check is the enthusiasm of the performances; most of the cast plays the material dead-straight, and impressively manages to get away with it. As troubled young Emma, Maite Lanata makes for a likeable protagonist we can easily root for on her self-imperiling journey, even if the sure star of the show is, of course, Danny Trejo.
Though Trejo does disappear for a few conspicuous patches throughout – especially during the later action sequences – he has a fair amount of screen time all in all, chewing through the wispy sage dialogue with his trademark gravelly tenor. Beyond philosophising about death and chatting up stewardesses, though, he gets an opportunity to sing briefly, and eventually teams up with a team of drag queens in his quest to help rescue Emma.
It may not always feel entirely contiguous, but it certainly leaves an impression – and a mostly positive one at that. Shadow of the Cat is charming nonsense – a fair attempt to inject some earnest emotion into a materially strange fantasy-horror romp.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.