“The measured insanity of this film is enthralling”
As uncomfortable as family meetups can be, Rock, Paper, Scissors takes the award for most horrifying. A surprise sibling reunion soon unravels into a twisted fairy-tale of vulnerability, jealousy, inflicting affection and imprisonment. This Argentinian horror-thriller is a menacing and uncomfortable portrait of human capabilities when their familiarity is threatened, and territory trespassed.
Following the death of their father, siblings Jesús (Pablo Sigal) and Maria (Valeria Giorcelli) remain living in their family house, with Maria seeming to have regressed to an absent-minded, child-like state. Step-sister Magdalena (Agustin Cerviño) arrives unexpectedly, a month following their father’s passing, enquiring after his will and inheritance. The siblings seem pleased with her appearance, with Maria excitedly brainstorming decoration plans for her new bedroom, however Magdalena assures her she’s here only for a short time. Upon learning most money was spent caring for their elderly and sick father, Magdalena suggests selling the house so she can receive a third of the left over assets. While leaving the house, Magdalena suddenly falls down the long stone steps and injures herself so badly she awakes in her deceased father’s bed, unable to move. Maria seems ecstatic to have someone to care for again (having been the main caregiver for their father) and Jesús seems helpful but doubtful of Magdalena’s suspicion that it was Maria who pushed her down the stairs.
What follows is a recovery reminiscent of Misery. Magdalena’s forced isolation pushes her to desperation and the behaviour of her overly friendly and ominous siblings slowly becomes more and more alarming.
The horror in Rock, Paper, Scissors is nuanced yet chilling, building tension with psychological fear and an isolation that makes even the audience feel claustrophobic. Though the film opens grounded in reality, it soon devolves to elements of surrealism. Jesús is creating a self-made film starring Maria, which is a gruesome twist on the Wizard of Oz and incorporates odd and at times disturbing visuals. What’s more unusual is how the story of Dorothy soon mirrors that of Magdalena, or more accurately, how it is forced to mirror hers, with the siblings become too invested in manipulating reality to fit their twisted tale.
The acting performances of this cast are all superb, displaying both subtle and manic horrors. The dismantling of Magdalena from a strong and level-headed woman to a weak and desperately trapped animal is tragic, with Cerviño portraying her devastating fall through a restrained and weary performance. The sibling’s slow revelation of character is suspenseful and masterful, with them being both fearsome and pitiful. Unpeeling their layers of character reveals a nasty, gaping wound, and despite its gruesomeness, audiences can’t help but wish they could help, all thanks to the excellent and fully rounded performances from Sigal and Giorcelli.
The measured insanity of this film is enthralling and the weaving of reality and fabrication only adds to the madness. With shots limited entirely to this house, directors Macarena García Lenzi and Martín Blousson transform an ordinary house into a chilling cage where escape is impossibly out of reach. Mixing in the dream-like visual creations of Jesús from his own home-made film, the result is a hellish nightmare that leaves viewers unsettled.
There is a risk this may be yet another excellent foreign horror ignored by many, especially as it relies more on psychological torture rather than demons or gore-fests, but missing this would be a travesty. With subtle tension, captivating performances, and a twisted conclusion, this is one horror that should definitely remain on all film-lovers’ radars.
Dir: Macarena García Lenzi and Martín Blousson
Cast: Pablo Sigal, Valeria Giorcelli, Agustin Cerviño