Generally, I don't like symbolist titles. I still remember the profound disappointment over The Squid and the Whale's squandered kaiju potential or finding out that Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus was essentially a VERY loose interpretation of the opening minutes of the Oliver North trial. There's something effortless, though, with the way Martín Blousson and Macarena García Lenzi's Rock, Paper and Scissors plays out. Something that makes the title...really satisfying.
My producer likes to say, “don't make it stinky.” Essentially, don't make things 'too' obvious. Give the audience some credit to make their own conclusions. I'm not talking about that damn spinning top. I mean laying enough breadcrumbs so you don't have to outright state what's really going on. Think the ripples in the water in Jaws. You know a shark's there, but there's a certain giddiness in that sudden 'oh shit' moment when the synapses fire in your own brain rather than having it screamed by that unsolved murder lady.
(Off topic but seriously check that out. Crazy story.)
We start off with Maria José (Valeria Giorcelli) and Jesus (Pablo Sigal) shortly after the death of their father. There's a lot of things to take care of so their half-sister Magdalena (Augustina Cerviño) arrives from Spain to help settle his affairs. Things take a turn, though (Magdalena's spine, for example), when she suddenly “falls” down the stairs. By the time she wakes up, Maria José has her trapped in their dead father's bed and completely under her 24-hour care.
Despite the siblings' soft veneer, Magdalena knows the truth – someone pushed her. Who does she trust? Maria José is all but completely absorbed in her own fantasy world and Jesus swings gleefully between victim and manipulator. Old wounds have festered too long and, though they never say it, Magdalena is convinced the twins are ready to take revenge.
The problem with a lot of these movies is that they're either too boring or too wacky. Rock, Paper and Scissors never has that issue. Everything comes off as shockingly natural and you can really feel what's going on in each character's head. Valeria Giorcelli and Pablo Sigal deserve special praise as the fractured brother and sister. They snipe and feed off each other so effortlessly it's like they've been doing this for years. They get that constant family cycle of love and hate. It's uncomfortable, borders on silly, and sometimes pretty gross. But that's real life, isn't it? And aside from one or two lines to cinch the story's running Wizard of Oz motif (trust me, that one really pays off) there's never any hamfisted dialogue or staging.
But then we come back to the title – Rock, Paper and Scissors. Three outcomes. Three players. Magdalena can manipulate Maria José but then leaves herself open to Jesus. One cannot be defeated without incurring the wrath of the other. And then you slowly start to realize that when you play rock, paper, scissors with three people there may not be ANY clear winner.
And I...probably could have been more clever with that reveal. Damn.
Anyhow, Rock, Paper and Scissors is a horrifying family drama worth checking out. It manages to avoid the Ari Aster traps of being oppressive misery porn and lands somewhere on the Golden Age Hollywood scale. It's got class, style, and great performances. It never talks down to its audience and features just enough absurdity to keep your interest. If you're looking for something a little more theatrical with a few well-placed splatters, give it a watch!
Author'S NOTE: Further research suggests The Squid and the Whale did initially feature a kaiju attack but the scene was regarded as “f***ing toilet hork” by Peter Travers of Rolling Stone.
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