Black Hollow Cage (2017)
Written & Directed by Sadrac González-Perellón
Ambiguity in media is often the point of frustration for many audience members. I can remember in college where classes read texts that left all the answers up in the air encountering students who would get red-faced with anger over the lack of finality. I was always the opposite; I cherished stories that left me hanging; they would linger in my mind for a long time. These texts were worth going back to and analyzing deeper. This comes down to two different ways of looking at life. Some people get very upset if they feel they don’t have a handle on the way the universe works and seeing it not correspond to their values. Other people accept the mystery of the void and keep going, knowing there will be blank spots and bumps in the road, that a lack of meaning is inevitable. I fall into the latter camp and so too does this film.
Black Hollow Cage is very far from a perfect movie; it tackles time travel, which is always a daunting challenge and pulls it off reasonably well. Alice is a pre-teen girl who has just received a robotic arm to replace the one she lost in a recent car accident. She has become cold and distant towards her father, and her mother’s consciousness appears to be contained inside an audio unit on her dog’s collar. The trio lives in isolation in the countryside, dwelling within a clean, industrial designed house. One day, while walking her Mum, Alice stumbles across a large black cube in the middle of the forest. A hole opens, and she pulls out a slip of paper with a note scrawled on it: “They are not to be trusted.” Hours later, her father returns home with two injured strangers whose attacker is out there in the woods.
The film is very much in the vein of cosmic/weird horror. The origins of the black cube are never revealed, and the plot only works to make its starting point even more confused. However, this is just in line with the Lovecraftian mystery the director is evoking. Every science fiction element of the film is embedded in the emotional stakes rather than being something technically possible. These are more akin to Jorge Luis Borges than hard science fiction. The narrative manages to twist back on itself a couple of times, and those loops are where most of the interesting things happen.
The aspects of the picture that will likely drive audiences into frustration are the intentional wooden, numb acting style. Characters behave as if they exist in a Wes Anderson world, without the pithiness. The acting is hard to judge as a result because it doesn’t fit the mold you’re anticipating. The two big emotional outbursts don’t play too well, both Alice and her father get a moment. Alice is a little better, but her dad’s breakdown doesn’t work for me at all. The mysterious strangers are cold and alien, which fits the creepy tone the movie needs to have to work.
My overall impressions after watching Black Hollow Cage is that it’s a very strong meditation on guilt and grief. Alice has lost trust in people after her accident, and she and her father’s encounter with the strangers heighten that exploration. There’s a lot of questions around the black cube and Alice’s near-immediate trust in it, which ties into her mistrust of others. The cube feeds her paranoia and leads her to commit some pretty gruesome acts. While the plot plays out to justify Alice the mystery surrounding the cube in the forest leaves many lingering questions about what force is manipulating events from the outside.