SXSW 2019 – Review: LA MALA NOCHE Is A Tough, Thought-Provoking Drama

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Credit: Gris Jordana.

La Mala Noche is a new Ecuadorian film directed by Gabriela Calvache. The movie tells the story of a prostitute who is faced with a difficult decision between providing for her sick daughter, dealing with her addiction, and repaying the debt she has to the human trafficker that controls her. It made its debut at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.

The story of this film is quite minimal, coming second to the commentary it has on the various themes it explores. In fact, there seems to be very little narrative movement until the final act. A majority of the movie is spent introducing and exploring the consequences of human trafficking. If you aren’t a fan of films that are more poetic than story-driven, this probably isn’t for you.

One potential problem with the movie is that the characters will not be sympathetic to everyone. They are developed enough for the theme to come across, but they are not developed enough to be super compelling. It is the subject matter that will invest the audience in the film. Had the characters been given more of a backstory, the movie would have been much more approachable as a whole. However, this seems to be purposeful to make the protagonist someone who could be any victim of human trafficking.

Due to the minimal plot, the pacing of the film does become rather taxing after a time. For much of the beginning of the movie, you will be waiting for something to happen. After you realize nothing is really going to happen, you will get used to it, only for the plot to kick in and cause a surge of excitement. This is jarring and inconsistent with the rest of the film.

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It is hard to say that you enjoy this movie because the tone is so ridiculously bleak. You will not leave this movie feeling good about life or society, and that means that the film served its purpose. It is meant to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of greed and addiction. If nothing else, this is good at driving home its point.

The actors all do a solid job in their roles. Nöelle Schönwald, who portrays the lead, does a great job of adding emotion into the movie. Every once in a while, she does begin to go a bit over-the-top (particularly in the scenes involving her character’s daughter), but she is solid for the most part.

Additionally, the film is relatively strong on a technical level too. The cinematography has a very dark and gritty feel to it as a whole, which helps to complement the very bleak tone. The use of music was also pretty strong, although the visuals definitely take the lead in the aesthetic department.

Overall, La Mala Noche was a solid movie. Although it is definitely bleak and depressing, it is well-made and has a lot to say.

La Mala Noche is now playing at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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