Terrific noirish atmospherics and strong perfs almost compensate for a wobbly script in Paco Lucio’s third feature, “The Shadow of Cain,” which combines family melodrama with an over-elaborate thriller plot. Pic is thick with enigma and intrigue, but sheer density of event and helmer’s desire for effect at all costs lead to occasional lack of verisimilitude, leaving pic straddling mainstream and arthouse sensibilities. The presence of otherworldly-looking Argentine thesp Eusebio Poncela will provoke interest in Latin American territories, but otherwise fest slots seem likeliest.
Politician Esteban (Poncela) and his cousin Daniel (Jorge de Juan) live in an unusual menage a quatre with Esteban’s mother, Dona Esther (Portuguese vet Isabel de Castro), who owns the steel foundry the family runs, and Daniel’s young wife, Patricia (Laia Marull). A delivery of drugs, hidden in one of the company vans, is being intercepted by small-time crooks on its way to bigger-time crook Abdul (Juan Erasmo Mochi). Abdul’s son is shot in the raid, and Abdul vows revenge on the killer.
All is not well at the foundry, and Santana (Alberto San Juan) is brought in to help out. Daniel takes to the bottle and suspects Santana and Patricia of having a relationship. The past comes back to haunt the family when Esteban discovers that Patricia was once arrested for drug dealing; Patricia’s past, in turn, comes back to haunt her. The movie’s complex structure — with three levels to the thriller plot alone — means the script has to convey vast amounts of narrative info in minimum time. The consequent ellipses create a nicely enigmatic mood during the first hour (apart from some painfully slow explanations of the complexities of the European steel industry), but thereafter the narrative becomes too tangled, and flaws start to show, along with some disorienting rapid-fire editing.
Pic has a surfeit of characters, many of them standard faceless thugs, though Poncela is good as a modern-day Machiavelli, and Mochi is genuinely scary as the hulking Abdul. Music by Daniel Sanchez de la Hera starts out too doom-laden for its own good, but then lightens up.