El Xendra

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/16/13 15:20:58

"Well, you can't complain about a Mayan Mystery movie from Honduras."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2013 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FEST: "El Xendra" is impressively ambitious for a Honduran science fiction movie, and it actually does a better job of delivering on those ambitions than a lot of movies whose reviews start that way. It's not necessarily going to stand toe-to-toe with its equivalents from larger film industries, but it manages well enough that I hope filmmaker Juan Carlos Fanconi can do a little more next time.

Four Central American scientists - Carlos (Juan Pablo Olyslager), Diego (Fabian Sales), Marcela (Rocio Carranza), and Roberto "Doc" Hernandez (Boris Barraza) - who had previously worked together on the start of a project called "Time of No Time" in the United States - wake up in the middle of a clearing with no idea how they got there. Is it related to the mysterious event that somehow blacked out much of North America the previous month? Or something older - the legendary ciudad blanca of the Maya?

The main portion of the action takes place in January 2013, so, yes, the strange event would have taken place right around the supposed end of the Mayan calendar that got so much play last year. Its mythology is far more focused on science-fictional things than ancient gods as such (an opening title claims it is "inspired by real messages from extraterrestrial beings"), and eventually includes a little bit of everything, although seldom in gaudy fashion. Fanconi doles it out over the course of the movie and leaves plenty of room for further exploration, with two more movies planned (and production on the second scheduled for this summer), though this story ends in a fairly satisfying way.

It's fairly entertaining getting there, too. While the pacing is somewhat slack at times and Fanconi occasionally has a little trouble juggling the film's flashback structure (once one hard date has been established in one, going with "three days earlier" and the like while the present moves forward is needlessly confusing), he builds an enjoyable quest for the group, posing fun mysteries, keeping potential threats close enough that the viewer feels he or she can seem them via the corner of his or her eye, and actually setting up a pretty intense action sequence or two. And while there are certain well-worn devices in place, one that Fanconi doesn't lean on is having the two younger men in the party fighting over the woman.

Oh, Carlos and Diego don't come off as being particularly fond of each other, but that's just Olyslager and Sales giving them personalities that clash and Fanconi writing them as being intelligent enough to be certain each knows what the group should be doing. Carranza is just as impressive, giving us both a connection to the outside world via Marcela's worries about what she was taken from and somewhat reckless curiosity. Barraza helps the group stick together as the amiable elder statesman of the group. For all that this is a detail-oriented sci-fi movie on a horror framework, the cast is good enough to keep the audience's interest when it's not jump time, and to keep the group interesting as people rather than just well-portrayed types.

There's not a lot in the way of effects, although what is there turns out capable enough. The filmmakers do a good job of making a lot from a little - even if the scope of the story is something that is mostly presented off-screen, it seldom feels like it is being hidden or avoided rather than discovered. Of course, by the end, enough has been revealed that "El Xendra 2" will have to show more. Hopefully Fanconi will be able to, because as much as the first movie was enjoyable, he can't keep the big stuff out of sight for much longer.

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