‘Most Beautiful Island’ is what you get if you Polanski, Cassavetes and Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut - stylistically speaking, of course. The film explores the dire straits many hopefuls find themselves in upon arrival to New York City. Cockroaches invading their bathtub, creepy Craiglist ads for suspicious part-time work and backstabbing friends that offer you a job that turns out to be a sadistic party for the elites.
Proudly stealing horror tropes left, right and centre, 16mm indie follows an undocumented Spaniard and grieving mother, well played by first time writer-director Ana Asensio, as she struggles from job to job, trying to make ends meet. But when her Russian ‘friend’ offers her a $4000 cash job, described as ‘a party’ at which she ‘doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to’, things get dark.
With a runtime of eighty minutes, the structure of the screenplay stretches out the second half almost in real-time and leaves no room for a third before the credits roll against a handheld shot of street-art reading ‘Big Apple, Big Dreams’. Making good use of the living film set that is NYC, the camera simply follows and observes, unable to do anything to stop the nightmare that unfolds. While the film could’ve benefited from trimming in some early scenes, the suspense leading to the understated climax is well deserved.
I’ve seen this movie before wearing different clothes. But the theme is something fresh, and from a first time filmmaker, it’s impressive. It has a voice, it has empathy and has something to say. ‘Most Beautiful Island’ is a fine example of simple cinema done well and done cheap.
3.5 out of 5.