Meandering along a very well-worn path, Embryo constantly blends genres, tone and purpose, and at times its incoherent nature makes for a lack of an emotional connection.
Confusing found-footage indie filmmaking with Netflix-style true-crime documentary, Embryo tries very hard with title cards in the opening scenes to explain the murky history of a mountain with numerous alien and paranormal encounters. At times the movie is far too incoherent and too deliberately fragmented to construct any convincing or compelling conspiracy. Director Patricio Valladares presents a by-the-numbers story of a young couple camping in the mountains until something disturbs them in the middle of the night.
Kevin (Domingo Guzmán) and his girlfriend Evelyn (Romina Perazzo) are camping in the woods when Evelyn is attacked and impregnated by an alien. The foetus growing inside her has a hunger for human flesh, and after a brutal attack, the pair head to the city to have the embryo removed.
Embryo takes far too many lengthy and confusing detours; that at times sadly feel like padding, trying to push the runtime out to a full feature. Rather than concentrating on one narrative, it tries to tell at least three stories linked through the mysterious mountains and UFO conspiracies, confusing the audience. It’s tough to feel anything for anyone in this film. The fragments that should inform the audience and create empathy never last long enough to engage the audience in any emotional pay-off with the characters.
Cannibalism plays a large part in the main narrative—after Evelyn is impregnated, she acquires a taste for human flesh. However, cannibalism, like vampirism, can only ever be used either exceptionally well as a metaphor or allegory for addiction, mental illness or dangerous sexuality. Here, it is utilised more for a gory, gross-out factor than any real narrative point. Many fascinating ideas are wasted in this film, and it is a pity, as it could be an excellent film, but it’s trying to do too much with too little.
At times Embryo feels more like an anthology or snippets of a mini-series than a cohesive narrative. Director Patricio Valladares’ approach moves too quickly for any real depth or understanding, from a home movie-style family London vacation to a mother running around filming herself with a phone as aliens invade the family home. It continues, going from the behind-the-scenes/found footage of a group of people in the mountains filming a lurid paganistic fertility rite that involves sex and frenzied murder to a disillusioned cop trying to find the truth of what’s going on in the mysterious mountains.
There are some moments of brilliance in the film; Valladares’ style of filmmaking and the inherent creepiness he explores shows true inspiration from the classic Fire in the Sky (1993) and a 1980’s Cronenberg body horror film (the change Evelyn goes through will bring back memories of 1986’s The Fly). Evelyn’s descent into otherworldly horror is visceral and extreme. There’s lots of blood and some real gross-out moments.
The enigma of the alien is left to the audience’s imagination which is most likely out of budgetary concerns. However, it is pretty compelling; after a Xenomorph, making a terrifying alien on screen is one of the most challenging things for a filmmaker to do. Sometimes less is more, and by only seeing shadows, and movement and tendrils in tight, suspenseful scenes, it plays out better than actually seeing the aliens would.
Despite the film’s potential and the three different styles and narratives used, Embryo’s run time is just 72 minutes. And this is its most significant issue, pacing. The film threatens to run out of steam on so many occasions that it almost borders on farce. There’s a repetitiveness to the main narrative of Kevin losing Evelyn—Evelyn attacking a camper, or traveller, then found covered in blood—that, after a while, loses its effectiveness. If there were another 20-30 minutes more, with all of the layers and narrative threads allowed to breathe, this would be a spectacular film.
Embryo made its world premiere at the 2020 FrightFest Film Festival.