Horror movies revel in offering audience members lessons that are simple and clear-cut. “Don’t do drugs or a hockey-faced man-sized boy will slaughter you.” “Don’t have premarital sex or you’ll end up impaled on a bed together.” “Don’t go to sleep or you’ll be sliced apart because the sins of the parents fall on the children (okay, that one’s pretty specific.)” But one of the most common lessons horror movies like to tell you is a simple one with nearly infinite variations:
Be careful what you wish for because it will be turned against you.
That lesson is the core ideal behind DESEO, DESEO, the first feature by Mexican filmmaker Eduardo M. Clorio. Surprisingly for such a common lesson, the film manages to spend most of its 82 minutes spinning a fresh and entertaining tale.
The lesson begins when several cousins come to the house of their late grandmother to see if there are any keepsakes worth lugging away from the worn-out, ragged-looking rooms. The only thing that turns out to be of any real interest is a board game called, appropriately “Deseo, Deseo” (I Wish, I Wish). Through a lot of name-calling and peer-pressure, everyone involved ends up playing the game whose rules are simple. Wish for something and then you get a price and a punishment. Pay the price or pay the punishment. The game is not over until everyone has made three wishes and paid for them, one way or the other.
Like most individuals who exist in the universe of horror movies, our players refuse to believe that there’s any value to this game, even when its digital board immediately starts demanding payments that no “simple” game should ever know. They start taking it seriously only when some people are rewarded for paying their price and the rest punished for refusing to pay theirs. But by that point, it’s clear that it’s already too late.
Movies like these can be overwhelmingly dull or obvious, but DESEO, DESEO instead generates real tension and suspense by recognizing what kind of film it is and leaning into it all the way. Some characters have punishments that are so severe it makes them attempt to undo the previous punishment with their next wish, an action so shortsighted that I cringed as they made them. Others are forced to admit to sins in their past that are so horrible that you’re almost glad the game forced them out into the open and far less concerned if those responsible are killed as part of their punishment. In fact, one revealed secret is so massively important to another character it made it somewhat hard to believe that they could even continue being in the same place together. Fortunately, the game does not give them much room to breath, scream at each other or even leave the house to get away.
It can be hard, however, to find a strong solution to a story with this type of premise. Either someone survives the game and ends up traumatized forever (in which case the story always feels like it should be a massive world-wide news story) or everyone is slaughtered and the game resets for its next victims. DESEO, DESEO makes a good attempt at trying to avoid the same sort of outcome but its ending still fell into a more predictable outcome, leaving the ending somewhat unsatisfying.
Equally, since movies like these are generally more interested in the premise than they are the characters (I’m looking at you, Final Destination franchise), the actors in the film all do a fine job portraying their parts but aren’t given much depth to explore before meeting whatever their outcomes are. The only real standouts are Fitzgerald Navarro because we actually see his backstory and Iván Mondragón because he has the largest emotional character arc.
DESEO, DESEO succeeds, in the end, because Clorio makes very smart choices with this film, using one location for the majority of the film, pacing out the scares and the glimpses of what might be behind the game’s power and by recognizing the inherent futility in trying to understand something as mystical this ‘game’ has to be for the story to work. It’s a far better film than many U.S. attempts at the same sort of premise and one well worth a watch when you get the chance.