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Sundance 2018: "Time Share," "The Queen of Fear"

Like a horror movie with the third act taken out, Sebastian Hofmann’s “Time Share” throws pebble-sized commentary at a Disney-like conglomerate called Everfields, imagined here as a soul-sucking resort in Mexico. It begins with an unsettling image, of a resort activities coordinator initiating a sack race for a group of happy families, only to collapse in a state of trauma. Jump to five years later, inside a shuttle bus taking family man Pedro (Luis Gerardo Mendez) and his wife and child to the same resort. The title appears in bright letters, as if it were more than just a title but also a punchline. 

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“Time Share” takes a less immediate tone after this, despite a periodically creepy string score, ominous shots of a real, massive hotel, and the general air that something is off. A lot goes wrong here for Pedro in contrived ways: his villa has been overbooked with a family of four meant to look comically trashy and gross, and he can’t get the type of respect he paid for when giving this resort his special time with his family. The movie is like the fleeting nightmare of a person who had a terrible experience at a resort, and then was mortified when they were offered a time share. 

Scene by slower scene, “Time Share” unravels all of its promise, with a scope that is unclear (we’re not really sure what the resort really offers, if this is a Disney kind of behemoth or what) and a metaphor about time share soul-sucking that alternates between weak and heavy-handed. Tackling the story from both Pedro’s perspective and that of a worker named Andres (Miguel Rodarte) provides little momentum, as if the script opted to lose a tighter, singular POV so that it could double-down on how evil Everfields is to workers and tenants alike. While some odd visions occur (such as flamingos, or a blood-soaked laundry machine in the basement), the narrative struggles to build. The movie peddles in paranoia, but is too tedious to make a lasting effect; even the resort itself seems too poorly operated to be worried about. 

This steady decline is all the more disappointing because of the solid filmmaking and acting, of which there are inspired moments throughout. The camerawork expressively boxes in monotonous worker Andres whenever it can, and Mendez depicts a palpable idea of a world gone mad except for him, even though the plot stretches to make his vacation even more awful. Even RJ Mitte is a nice surprise as a type of resort figurehead, his casting underused despite a couple of monologues. The movie itself tries to sell you on something that it is not, making for an experience with little positive memories to take with you.

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Coming from Argentina, “The Queen of Fear” is an artistic crisis project, in which an actress is putting on a one-woman show, of which she does not know what it will be about, even though the premiere is days and then hours away. That’s a skin-crawling enough concept, a type of high stakes venture that seems reckless and curious, but the mind of Tina (writer, co-director Valeria Bertuccelli) is clearly elsewhere. When her weepy housemaid calls her right before rehearsal she dashes off; when a long-lost friend is recovering from cancer she travels to see him; when a power outage problem persists and makes her think that she’s broken into, she gives someone a key to protect her. Her life is in flux, seemingly mostly by her own inability to grab hold of her responsibilities and stay focused. It’s a relatable idea to be certain, but in this case it doesn't add up to a particularly interesting film. 

Written and co-directed by star Valeria Bertuccelli, the movie takes on a tedious nature as it provides little for the audience to hang onto. Her character Tina is shown to be a powerful actress, so much that she can open a one-woman show without anyone knowing what it’s about, but we don’t get the sense that she is a great artist, or that her creative procrastination is worth us waiting for. It’s like Tina is going by the same fly-by-night nature of Guido pulling a movie out of his ass in Fellini’s “8 1/2,” but Bertucelli does not tie together her character’s various anxieties towards anything of particular revelation or captivating creativity. Bertuccelli herself is more interesting in concept than execution as she initially displays a hyperactive mind, but settles into a tedious character. 

A shoulder shrug of a movie about a shoulder shrugging artist, it would make more sense if the movie itself were the product of such a flippant production schedule, with actors not told what they were doing until they showed up to set. But “The Queen of Fear” remains so dedicated to Tina’s specific anxieties, and it has a sharp enough eye, that it’s more like a rant that does not know how to express itself.

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