Fantasia Film Festival Movie Review: MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND

Welcome witches and warlocks,

Today I will be reviewing the suspense/drama MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND by writer/director Ana Asensio. To best describe the story, I will turn to the IMDB plot summary:

“A chilling portrait of an undocumented young woman’s struggle for survival as she finds redemption from a tortured past in a dangerous game.”

Through one phone conversation we are told the majority of what we need to know about our lead’s backstory. While one might assume that the dialogue in that scene was incredibly expository, it was subtle, quick, and handled in such a fashion that led the viewer to draw their own conclusions. In many ways this one moment is the template for the rest of this feature as many of the beats are understated, yet carry weight upon some consideration. Now, this does not mean that every second of this film requires deep though, it does not, but it does reward the viewer who seeks out some subtext amidst the suspenseful story.

That is right, this does carry some of the tensest moments I have seen in a movie in quite a while. One could make the mistake of finding the first half not that interesting, but the second half is absolutely gripping and will leave many a viewer’s skin crawling. I will not say much more about act two except to say, the patient viewers will be greatly rewarded by the finale.

None of this is to say that the first act is bad, it is not, but it focuses a lot on setting up our lead and the world she inhabits. Given that she is an undocumented immigrant, there is a lot of room to draw some conclusions about the politics of this piece. Luckily, these ideas are never pounded into our heads, but instead we are just watching her struggle to survive and left to our own thoughts on her situation. I appreciated that they decided to just show a human life instead of trying to drive home a political point as it left a lot of room to start a real conversation.

Of course, for any of this subtext and suspense to work, our lead must be someone with whom we empathize. Ana Asensio, the writer and director, breathes such life into the central role that it would be hard pressed not to care. There is a longing in her eyes that brings to mind the looks of people who just want their chance at a normal, stable life. As the bills stack up and her desperation gets greater, we as the audience cannot help but to hope that she will somehow come out of all of this unscathed.

All in all, this is a minimalist suspense story that says a lot without saying too much. Our lead gives such a powerful performance that it is hard not to be on the edge of our seats during the fateful second half. Fans of movies like Dirty Pretty Things (2002) or Memento (2000) will find this to be just as tense.

MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND had it’s Canadian Premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on July 22 and will be having an encore showing on July 24 at 3:15pm at the Salle J.A. De Sève.

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