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Body, The (2012)
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by Jay Seaver

"Decidedly not dead on arrival."
4 stars

"The Body" ("El Cuerpo" in Spanish) is the sort of thriller that to all appearances never lets the audience get too far behind - in fact, it often feels like the viewers are ahead of the characters. That may sound like a mistake, but director Oriol Paulo and co-writer Lara Sendim do such a good job of keeping the details that hold the structure that the audience sees together just out of reach that the movie's crimes would be fun to puzzle out even if it wasn't the well-polished production it turns out to be.

As it starts out, a couple of people have just arrived home to Barcelona after journeys abroad. Jaime Peña (José Coronado) has just been to Berlin to see his estranged daughter, and as the detective is called in on a late-night hit-and-run, it doesn't seem like things went well. But, as his partner Pablo (Juan Pablo Shuk) tells him, this isn't any ordinary accident - the victim was a security guard at the morgue who bolted from the building in fear. That brings them to Mayka Villaverde (Belén Rueda), the wealthy owner of a number of companies who returned home from a business trip to Los Angeles and promptly died of a heart attack. Except her body is missing from the morgue, and while the forensic pathologist (Cristina Plazas) who examined her wonders if maybe she had been cataleptic, Mayka's husband Alex (Hugo Silva) and his young lover Carla Miller (Aura Garrido) seem to have good reason to suspect that's not the case. But if it isn't... Well, what is going on?

That's the multi-million dollar question, and it is a deliciously tantalizing one: Paulo & Sendim set up a situation where an explanation that would be pretty outlandish in the real world seems to be the one that fits the facts the best, but doesn't fit them so well that nothing else would make sense. It gives the audience pieces to fit together but not in such a way that what's going on seems disconnected or random, and with Alex positioned as the protagonist most of the time, the audience gets to indulge in a tangy combination of rooting for the bad guy and schadenfreude as the box he's in grows tighter.

The other thing about the movie that's kind of a kick is that while Paulo has set the movie up as a sort of film noir with a disreputable lead, femme fatale, and gruff cop circling a murder, there's always the sense that it would only take a small twist for this to be a horror movie. It is about a corpse that seems to have gotten up and started walking around,after all, but even beyond that, The Body often has the feeling of an old dark house story as the rain and mystery keep most of the characters hanging around the forensic institute with lights cutting out, taunting items (and apparitions?) mysteriously appearing as the lights cut in and out. Paulo, cinematographer Oscar Faura, and the rest do a nifty job of finding a look that straddles the line between these genres, especially with Sergio Mourede Oteyza backing it up with music that recalls Bernard Herrmann in the best way.

The folks in front of the camera do their part nicely, too. Hugo Silva does a fine job of capturing how nobody is the villain in their own mind, making Alex a character that the audience may dislike but whom they can handle being around and maybe even empathize with as things grow stickier. It's a thin line to walk, but he manages it. José Coronado is kind of impressive as well; Jaime's a blunt, clenched fist of a man who could wind up looking blustering and ineffectual as things go on but instead manages to seem dogged, with Coronado using the moments where his character's history is brought up to make Jaime seem a bit more sympathetic. Aura Garrido plays the nervous lover in over her head quite well, but it's Belén Rueda who gets to steal scenes. Most if not all of her work is in flashback, but during those scenes, she makes Mayka sexy and funny enough that her tendency toward socially inappropriate actions tends to be stuff that one could believe as being forgiven because of her personal charm and wealth, but also establishes the sort of edge that makes the whole movie being a very twisted game rather plausible.

The flashback structure and the necessary explanation that must eventually come is where Paulo stumbles a bit, although not disastrously. For all that he and Sendim have built a story that holds together fairly well and needs the characters to have history, it sometimes takes a bit of time in the absence of narration to catch just how far back a given flashback goes, especially when "yesterday" does not look notably different than "a few years ago". And no matter what the medium, laying what happened out can sometimes have the opposite effect intended, where what seemed like a clever plan is exposed as relying on a bunch of things that the mastermind seemingly had no way of knowing.

I suspect, though, that those issues are the type that can be explained away if someone is willing to put the same effort into making connections as finding holes. In either case, "The Body" winds up doing pretty well; a dash of horror makes what could be a sort of standard mystery-thriller a bit more exciting, and the cast and crew are able to make the most of it.

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originally posted: 11/01/13 10:29:16
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User Comments

8/15/17 Richard A delicious film noir with a nice twist. Definitely enjoyed the ride! 5 stars
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