The Wait (La espera) (Fantastic Fest 2023)
Dir. F. Javier Gutiérrez (2023)
A man who has recently lost his family loses himself as he seeks revenge.
The manifestation of guilt is not new concepts to be explored within film, nor are the themes of reaping what you sow and paying for your greed despite good intentions. In director F. Javier Gutiérrez's new film The Wait, these topics are fleshed out in the story of a man, Eladio (Victor Clavijo), whose son died in an accident, his wife killing herself shortly thereafter. He seeks revenge on those he blames for the death of his family, despite his own complicity in endangering them through his greedy choices. As he begins to uncover
Long, meandering establishing shots and a dreadfully slow pace ultimately doom The Wait, turning an otherwise heartbreaking story into a drudging character study on undeserved fate. There is such a thing as too much atmosphere, and The Wait is, at times, pushing even those boundaries. There are as many drawn-out shots of rocks and sand as there are emotional gut punches, an unfortunate imbalance that greatly harms the overall significance of the film. The story at the heart of the drama is sad, to be sure, but even the hour-and-a-half-or-so runtime feels like it could've been cut in half and maintained the same impact.
Nevertheless, the film is haunting and emotionally calamitous, incredibly well-acted, and with some truly breathtaking cinematography. The shots, slow as they may be, are gorgeous, the isolating landscape as much a character as the people who are doomed to live and die within. Clavijo delivers a fantastic performance, emotionally connecting with the role despite the absence of dialogue throughout much of the runtime. The conspiracy of sorts at the heart of the film is compelling, a notion that is worth pursuing, but is unfortunately largely irrelevant because the decisions that drove the story's actions were made without knowledge of any background scheme.
The main problem with the plot is a cultural one: Eladio turns the guilt in on himself as the decision-maker for the family, despite the fact that it was his wife's insistence that he break the rules and her allegations of cowardice that drove him forward. You can certainly make the case that Eladio is, in fact, responsible for his own actions, and that's certainly true. You can also make the case that he's a good man who did what he thought was best because of the urgings of another, Marcia playing the Lady Macbeth in this devastating drama. As emotionally impactful as the film becomes, I can't help but feel, as an audience member, that her son's death and her own suicide would not be unbecoming of Shakespeare's manipulative, villainous spouse.
The wait, in this instance, is referring to the time between when your world has ended and when your body catches up. Eladio's tragic story is moving, to be sure, but it is also inevitable. The Wait is an exceptionally well-crafted film, a depiction of loss, grief, and guilt through the clear eye of an auteur. Unfortunately, it moves too slow to truly find its footing as anything other than a sad film that will lose most of its audience along the way. The horror elements in the film are well done but out of place, with no real reason for inclusion other than to appeal to a different audience that otherwise would take a pass. There is a Baker-esque werewolf transformation three quarters of the way through for some reason, though, so... there's that.
Who this movie is for: Western fans, Sadness porn lovers, Inaccurate hunters
Bottom line: The Wait is a good film, clearly and emphatically well-made and with a unique perspective on an age-old story. Unfortunately, it is also painfully slow, with numerous shots that feel like they could be in slow-motion, exploring a desolate landscape to the extent that it becomes its own character. While the story itself is one worth telling, telling it like this makes it not as compelling of a story as it could otherwise be.