Homages to classic anthology shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits” are hit-and-miss. The worst fall prey to nostalgia, mimicking the structure of those shows without knowing what makes them work, and the best stay true to the sensibility and tone of its source material. “The Similars” falls into the latter category. Director Isaac Ezban has a deep love for the form, stretching a shallow plot to its absolute limit and driving his characters insane in the process. Watching them break down in the midst of some kind of invasion is a joy, and getting wrapped up in the chaos is inevitable.
It’s 1968 in Mexico, and the country is restless. Students hold demonstrations against the government only to be tear gassed and shot down. On the night of one such demonstration, the real life Tlatelolco massacre that left 300-400 people dead, a mysterious rain falls, altering anyone unlucky enough to meet it. Five hours away from Mexico city, eight strangers are trapped in a bus station. Martín (Fernando Becerril) has worked at the station for 30 years and retires in two weeks. Ulises (Gustavo Sánchez Parra) is missing the birth of his twins in the city. Álvaro (Humberto Busto) takes leave from medical school to participate in a demonstration, but he never gets there. Irene (Cassandra Ciangherotti) is on the verge of giving birth. An indigenous woman (Catalina Salas) doesn’t speak Spanish and performs mysterious rituals away from the group. And mother Roberta (María Elena Olivares) needs to get her son Ignacio (Santiago Torres) to the doctor.
It doesn’t take much for everyone to turn on each other. The mysterious rain, social unrest, and some seriously horrifying transformations is all it takes for the group to fracture. With that comes melodrama of the highest order. A stirring, vintage score by Edy Lane elevates the movie’s charming paranoia, and, even at its darkest, the effect is charming.
Like the best classic sci-fi, “The Similars” evokes that same “Oh god, what now?” intrigue with every turn. Sure, the black-and-white is unmistakably modern, but Ezban and his cast have such a deep love for the genre fiction of old that it’s never a distraction. Ezban is careful to not overuse or parody his inspirations, though. He’s got the chops to craft some truly terrific scenes, especially in the last half of the movie. As with any homage like this, the ending’s gotta be a kick in the pants, and it is. For those who grew up on this kind of pulp fiction, Ezban’s “The Similars” is an invigorating reminder of their power. Bookended by a Rod Serling soundalike, the movie plays out like the best of a bygone era. With a modern sensibility, it goes by just as quickly. It’s just a shame it doesn’t stick around longer.