39th Cleveland International Film Festival

‚ÄčThe Incident

A Review

Lisa Sanchez
‚ÄčThe Incident (also known as El Incidente) directed and written by Isaac Ezban was shown at the 39th Cleveland International Film Festival at a late-night screening on Friday, March 20. According to the director, The Incident is: "a film that is meant to be watched at night" and it was everything I hoped it would be from its mysterious eyebrow-raising trailer, plus a little more. The movie is a well-crafted depiction of human suffering in a surreal setting, combined with legitimate "what the fuck?" moments and a plot that keeps the audience guessing well after they've left the theatre.
The film opens with two brothers, Carlos and Oliver, fleeing from a detective attempting to arrest them. While in their building's stairwell, Carlos is shot in the leg by the pursuing officer. Shortly after the shot is fired, a room-rattling explosion can be heard, but leaves the characters intact and unaffected. Finally apprehended, Marco, the detective, tries to lead the pair out of the stairwell only to discover that none of the doors will open. After pounding on all of the doors, Marco discovers whether he ascends or descends the stairs he will always end up back at the platform where he left Oliver and the profusely bleeding Carlos. Time and space have apparently bent inward on the trio to confine them to nothing more than a few flights of stairs and a solitary vending machine.
At first, I thought The Incident's beginning was a big cliche. The whole set up seemed like a hollow excuse to get these characters into a confined space to have free-range to mess with them incessantly. Although the setting could easily become boring and stagnate the story, the claustrophobia of this situation is palpable for the audience. There is no outside light in the stairwell, just the cold, industrial glow of mass-produced white lacquer paint and a never-ending sound of tin reverberating off of the small space. Eventually, Carlos dies from his gunshot wound, and time ticks on into infinity for Oliver, distraught from his brother's death, and Marco, overcome with guilt for killing Carlos claiming the act was "beyond his control."
Without warning, we are introduced to another scenario in Ezban's world of disastrous happenings. This segment comes with no introduction or apparent connection to the men we just saw in the stairwell. A family (mother, son, daughter, and stepfather) are on a road trip to deliver the children to their biological father. The outdoor scenes are beautifully shot and it seems like perfect weather for a family excursion. But, the scene has already been set with the stairwell situation, so it's clear nothing good is going to happen here. As it turns out, the family becomes trapped, traveling along the same road with the same gas station and the same ceaseless blue sky constantly radiating the same exact sun.
Both the family and the gentlemen and the stairwell end up in their respective, persistent Hells for the next thirty-five years. Take a moment to absorb how long that is. Because the sheer amount of time is what truly makes this story horrifying and keeps me awake at night thinking about it. Each group of people live in an environment that is constantly revolving inside of itself.      
The way Ezban shows how time has passed and what has happened to these people thirty-five years is very impressive, both in their demeanor changes and their attitudes toward their situations. This concept is difficult to explain without damaging the mystique of The Incident, but just try and imagine piles of every day objects, useful or not, piled, stacked, just building up ad infinitum in a space that never gets bigger. The massive build up of effects even feels realistic, as if you've stepped into a hoarder's den of discarded markers and plastic-wrapped sandwiches. A lot of credit has to be paid to the actors as well, who master certain "dead behind the eyes" looks that only decades in a reality-bending nightmare world can bring.
I'm still mulling over the ending of The Incident, a conclusion that explains why these unfortunate individuals are trapped in one god-forsaken place or another for thirty-five year spans, what connects them, and what happens if and when they escape their time prison. But, as one door shuts another one swings open and destroys something else, so the cycle continues.
Ezban, in a question and answer forum after the film, said that he drew a lot of inspiration for The Incident from productions like Lost and Inception and was always interested in doing a movie that dealt with different elements of time. Ezban stated that he left some elements of the film up in the air to allow the audience to draw their own conclusions, but his upcoming film will reference and expound upon the phenomena that occurs in The Incident, which is enough incentive for me to keep following his work.
I've seen a lot of sci-fi movies in my day, more specifically time loop/time travel/time trickery movies in particular. The Incident takes all of those motifs and blends them into one visceral, occasionally cringe-worthy, surreal experience you can't take your eyes off of. Ezban has taken a genre that has been done to death and created something unique and intriguing with it. He hasn't reinvented the wheel, but The Incident has definitely added some new tread.