When her father goes missing, 13 year old Lili uses a spiritual ritual to find him but she gets it wrong and her life turns into a nightmare.
Billed as the first psychological horror film out of Cuba, Is That You? (¿Eres tú, Papa?) is a methodically paced narrative, full of subtext and creepy visuals. The story centered around Lili (Seymour Cassel Award-winning actress Gabriella Ramos), who lives in poverty and witnesses her shoe repairman father (Osvaldo Doimeadiòs) abuse her mother (Lynn Cruz). When her father dies, she attempts a ritual to contact him, which leads to horrifying results.
From the first few minutes, the presentation of the subject matter easily has the ability to the viewer uneasy. The way Lili’s father, Eduardo, rules his family with an iron thumb is sickening. He locks his wife in the house all day and tethers her ankles together so she cannot run away. Through minimal dialogue clues, it is implied that this is Eduardo’s form of punishment for her infidelity with Carlos (Jorge Enrique Caballero), a man he occasionally employs. Eduardo explains to Lili that he loves her and her mother, but he cannot forgive her yet.
The film’s cinematography and set design mirror the meager existence displayed on screen. The family’s shack of a home is run down and the visuals are bathed in a brown, desaturated color palette.
While writer-director Rudy Riverón Sánchez’s debut feature expertly creates a tense atmosphere and contains strong acting, some viewers may not have the patience for it’s slow pacing. Editing also appears to be haphazard at points. Somes shots seem to extend for long periods of time, while others appear to prematurely cut to others. These pacing and editing choices affect the building action. However, those who stick through the film may be rewarded.
One particular sequence that stands out is when Lili repeats a ritual that she is taught to do. In one shot she is seen under a bed speaking to an egg as if it’s her father. To me, this fantastical image recalls the scene in Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth where Ofelia keeps a mandrake root under her mother’s bed in hopes that it eases her pregnancy pain.
Lili’s toxic relationship with her father has caused her to become apathetic to her father’s abuse, blinded by her love for him. Ramos displays Lili’s lack of emotion through a blank face and lifeless eyes. Yet, there are instances where her love and twisted loyalty for her father materialize, whether it is when she leans her head into his shoulder as he embraces her or when she prevents her mother from escaping one evening while her father is sleeping.
Sánchez’s script also expertly explores this ground and also introduces multiple explanations for its open-ended conclusion. When she attempts to contact her father, does she become possessed by her father’s spirit? Does he poison her mind in order for her to carry out his bidding? Or is Lili on the edge of a psychological breakdown?
As a whole, Is That You? retains a creepy vibe throughout its 107 minute runtime. Although uneven, it showcases a wealth of talent on both sides of the camera and sets a good example of the type of quality horror that can emerge from Cuba.
Sean Woodard serves as the Film Editor for Drunk Monkeys and a Co-Producer of the faith and spirituality podcast, Ordinary Grace. Focusing on a wide variety of interests, Sean’s fiction, film criticism, and other writings have been featured in Los Angeles Review of Books, NonBinary Review, Horrorbuzz, Cultured Vultures, and Los Angeles Magazine, among other publications. He is currently a doctoral student at University of Texas at Arlington.