티his bold and disturbing arthouse horror from first-time feature director Juan Diego Escobar Alzate feels like it could be set sometime in the 19th century. It’s about a tiny religious cult based in the wildly beautiful Colombian mountains: the group’s leader is El Señor (Conrado Osorio), a farmer who looks like a cowboy in the Clint Eastwood mould, with a macho growl; his trio of daughters wear frontier prairie dresses. But we must be closer to the present day: in an early scene the eldest, 23-year-old Laila (Andrea Esquivel), brings him a 1980s cassette player that she has found in the woods and she is spellbound by this unknown contraption. El Señor says the devil lurks inside.
It’s an intriguing set-up, and cinematographer Nicolás Caballero Arenas shoots the lush landscape through what looks like a trippy filter; blazing sunsets and garish rainbows give the film a quasi-fairytale, almost surreal feel. El Señor has raised his daughters in total ignorance of the world outside their community of a dozen or so. But the film is depressingly thin on the women; often it seems more interested in arranging them in arty tableaux than investigating the way that isolation has shaped their personalities and how they see the world. The wafty Terrence Malick-ish voiceover written for Laila doesn’t exactly fill in the psychological gaps.
One night El Señor, a brooding, violent man, brings a blond-haired boy of about eight to the farm. He says the kid is Jesus and chains him outside by the neck like a farm animal in the freezing cold to test his theory. It’s striking image, and there are plenty more, but the movie is oddly lacking in heat or intensity. I also found two scenes of brutal violence against women troubling: Alzate’s gaze always drifts back to El Señor; he is the object of interest rather than his daughters.