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To Let
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by Jay Seaver

"Now I hate house-hunting even more."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: "To Let" was shown at the Fantasia Festival as part of a double bill with another movie from the "Films to Keep You Awake" series, Alex de la Iglesia's "The Baby's Room", and it shares a number of characteristics - a young couple starting a family, and a creepy new home. It puts a decidedly different spin on the material, though, playing up the bloody action as opposed to the black comedy.

This film's young couple are Mario (Adira Collado) and Clara (Marcarena Gomez). They're in a bit of a bind, since they've sold their old place before finding a new one, so even though Clara's not feeling well - morning sickness combined with the end of a 36-hour shift as a nurse - she agrees to see the apartment Mario has made an appointment to see, although she gets to play bad cop. They almost just turn right around upon finally finding it - it's in an ugly old building in a crummy-looking area with weird-looking mannequins strewn all over the place, but the realtor (Nuria Gonzalez) insists that the area is being redeveloped, with a school and a green zone and shops, and it's fully furnished and all the renovation is on them. Carla still doesn't like it, especially the way the woman is talking like they've already taken the place, but takes a moment to lie down when she's feeling dizzy. That's when Mario finds the pair of old sneakers he threw away last week, and she sees a photo of them already placed on the bedside table... Just where did Mario find the listing for this place, anyway?

Co-writer/director Jaume Balaguero was one of the directors of [REC], and like that sensation, To Let doesn't let up once the chaos begins in earnest. This is a pretty straightforward escape movie, with protagonists in a weakened state trying to outrun and outwit an adversary that knows the solidly-built territory much better than they do and has a few nasty tricks up its sleeve. Balaguero and his co-writer Alberto Marini do a nice job setting everything up, playing on what a weird and uncomfortable process looking for a new place to live is and finding a nifty way to sidestep the "how does this last more than five minutes if the heroine has a cell phone" question.

Macarena Gomez plays the heroine, which in this sort of film involves a lot of running. It's not necessarily the meatiest of characters, but she handles it with aplomb, not alienating us despite her early crankiness and making Clara seem reasonably smart even though she's afraid for her life once the action starts. Collado is pleasant enough as Mario, and Ruth Diaz and Roberto Romero are good as the other prisoners in the building. Nuria Gonzalez is just what the movie needs as Portera the realtor, able to go from apparently harmless to being absolutely nuts in a frighteningly calm way as the situation demands.

That's close to the entire cast, and Balaguero keeps the rest of the film tight as well. It runs a very efficient sixty-eight minutes including credits, very few of them wasted. What's especially impressive is how he doesn't just use the first act to foreshadow the tricks that Clara, Portera, and company will use in the chase segment of the movie, but also sets up things on the run. One set piece lays the seeds for the next, with satisfyingly bloody results.

Truth be told, I may have liked "To Let" even more than "[REC]"; there's not much in the way of fat on this one. Besides, who among us hasn't found a place to live that seemed to meet our needs perfectly but later reveals hidden pitfalls? This is just an excellent nightmare version of that situation.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17638&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/06/08 10:12:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 19-Aug-2008

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