The beauty of genre-bending is having the room to explore, push, and mash multiple storylines together – all while having fun with it. And that’s what Embryo really nails. Directed by Patricio Valladares and written by Valladares and Barry Keating, this gorgeous Chilean film is a masterclass in ingenuity and experimental narratives.
Beginning with a block of background information on Snowdevil and its mysterious past and present, the introduction to the plot and premise feels familiar in a ‘Twilight Zone’ sort of way. It reveals a bit too much and seems a tad unnecessary, but gets a lot of exposition out of the way early to help fully immerse us in this world. So much so that seeing a couple on a camping excursion in the woods is already terrifying and revealing.
Kevin (Domingo Guzmán) takes Evelyn (Romina Perazzo) into the trails of Snowdevil as a backdrop to propose to her. However, their bliss is short lived when Evelyn is abducted by something in the woods, and returned naked and pregnant with an inner voice telling her to feed on human flesh. Blending multiple genres, this cabin-in-the-woods horror becomes a road trip horror as the couple goes on the run. Evelyn leaves a trail of bodies as Kevin tries to both protect her from the consequences and find her the help she needs. They are tracked by Officer Jorquera (Cristian Cuentrejo), whose dogged attitude towards finding this couple is revealed in interwoven found footage vignettes.
The first mini-story tape is from 12 years ago. A film crew heads into the woods to make a video, which takes a turn for the worst when one of the actors attacks the crew and holds his girlfriend, Paulina (Paulina Facuse), hostage in an abandoned cabin, torturing her. The second tape is from 3 years ago. A woman, Carla (Evelyn Belmar), also disappears while camping, only to come back pregnant. She gives birth to a daughter who draws aliens and calls Carla “Martian mommy.” Their vignette ends with a tentacled creature attacking the house, wanting her daughter back.
What makes all these moving pieces fit together are the gentle and still moments of peaceful footage intercut between all the intensity. Gorgeous shots of the landscapes and tone poems add to the swirling, visceral quality of the narrative. Navigating the restrictions of Covid-19, Valladares used old footage from hikes and adventures with his wife, as well as shooting additional scenes in his own home with an iPhone to help add another layer to the found footage scenes. Proving that once a story is inside you, you have to get it out any way you can, but also adding room to the exploration of what it means to push the limits of your love.
The movie snakes its way back to the abandoned cabin in the woods, where it becomes clear Evelyn is past the point of no return. This moment dovetails all the narratives together, revealing that Paulina was Officer Jorquera’s sister, who has never been found, and his desire to find her has become an obsession. This causes him to plunge into addiction and psychosis, becoming overly involved in these cases as a means of searching for answers, only to be led here.
Kevin must grapple with how to move forward, torn between his love for Evelyn and his fear of what has brought them all here. The braiding of the narratives also mirrors the push and pull of what intimacy looks like within relationships, exploring sexuality as a means of power, desire, and destruction. Digging up the results of each character’s boundary and limit is, Embryo fully delivers on the premise of: what lengths would you go to for the ones you love?
Embryo releases On Demand April 6 via Uncork'd Entertainment.
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