Michel Franco’s “After Lucia” is about the quiet dissolution of a family following the death of its matriarch. Having just picked up the nearly totaled car that took his wife’s life, Roberto (Hernán Mendoza) decides to abandon his old life by the side of the road and move himself and his daughter Ale (Tessa Ia) to a new city. This clean break is the last good decision that either of them makes. Unlike their car, they are irreparable. They are so convinced that pretending everything is fine around one another is the right thing to do, that they stay the course as things increasingly disintegrate.
At first, Ale fits in well at her new school. She gets invited to parties and attracts the attention of some of the popular boys. But one false move later, she becomes Public Enemy Number One. The bullying reaches a fever pitch so brutal that it can only be allegorical. Literally everyone in her class is in on making her as miserable as possible at every moment. It’s never clear why she doesn’t fight back. Part of her might think she deserves it because she survived the wreck that killed her mother. But since there’s no legitimate reason for her to put up with it and keep it to herself, it’s all quite difficult watch.
The only music in the film is diegetic, leaving the audience to their own devices for sentiment. There are no big speeches or voiceovers. Since no one says how he or she feels, we have to imagine it ourselves. And it’s hard not to imagine the worst. This is the film’s cruelty to its audience. It’s an interesting way to tell a story, but not a very pleasant one to hear.
“After Lucia” is an emotional horror film along the lines of “We Need to Talk About Kevin” that builds slowly and uncomfortably. The characters are often shot from behind, or across a room, emphasizing the distance between father and daughter. When the camera does get close, it’s usually when something really horrible is happening. It often feels like torture porn, especially when things reach sexual assault level. This isn’t so much an exposé on school bullying, as it is a depiction of the abyss of grief. It’s a testament to the performances that I stuck with this film. It’s part hard truth, part cautionary tale and an all-around traumatic experience for everyone involved.