The first scene (which I won’t describe, save for that it involves feet and some truly gross sound mixing) gives us reason to believe that not all is well in Lili’s household. Indeed, writer/director Rudy Riverón Sánchez spends the first thirty minutes of the film unveiling the methods of Eduardo’s abuse with painstaking clarity. Eduardo is a tortured monster, not a caricature, and Doimeadiós’s reserved performance is brilliant in how it gives us hints of the stories Eduardo tells himself that allows him to treat his family this way.
Like many films in the “psychological thriller” subgenre, Is That You? has an emotional texture of pounding, relentless dread. The musical equivalent would be something like Philip Glass or drone metal. There isn’t much variety in how the audience feels, no comic relief or room to breathe. It’s about making choices that all sustain one specific form of discomfort.
“I can’t write off Is That You? completely, not when the first half is so strong.”
When Eduardo is alive, Is That You? sustains this feeling very well. When he’s gone, the movie falls off a cliff. Without spoiling too much anything, the subject shifts from an illustration of Eduardo’s abuse to a study of the cycle of abuse: how emotional violence begets emotional violence between generations. It becomes about how Lila, in her love for her father, starts to inherit some of his worst tendencies.
This part of the movie is nowhere near as strong as the first half. It’s jarring to go from a fully realized dramatization of abuse to a sublimated-through-genre-conventions version that isn’t nearly as insightful. I laughed out loud in the last scene of Is That You? Usually, if a movie makes me laugh, I count it as a good thing, even if it doesn’t seem like the filmmakers’ intention. Not here.
But I can’t write off Is That You? completely, not when the first half is so strong. It’s like a cubist painting that shows us all the angles of this miserable household, putting each character’s pain into relief. It does this with more emotional force than most “prestige” films that deal with similar issues. Despite my issues with his feature debut, I’m excited to see Rudy Riverón Sánchez’s next project.
"…an emotional texture of pounding, relentless dread..."