Director Carlos Carrera maintains his feverishly excessive manner in "From Childhood."

Director Carlos Carrera maintains his feverishly excessive manner in “From Childhood.” Adapted from Jesus Mario Gonzalez Suarez’s novel, this overlong, over-the-top drama — about the ghost of a teen thief, shot down by cops mid-robbery, attempting to protect a lad from his violent, drug-addled father — becomes so corny onscreen that it severs any emotional connections. Although Carrera continues to be lauded on the home front (with director laurels in Guadalajara), his brand of moviemaking will have a harder transition to the world stage, with muted fest and commercial prospects.

When police gun down a youth (Rodrigo Corea) outside the residence he robs, it sets off a mystical legacy of evil, in which bad spirits are supposed to explain the destructive behavior of men and boys alike.

Basilio (Damian Alcazar) initially appears to be a loving dad, but it soon becomes clear he’s a thoroughly despicable human being; by failing to establish a sense of what might have drawn nice mom Sofia (Giovanna Zacarias) to make a life with this two-faced slime bucket in the first place, the script builds a rigidly drawn family melodrama on sand, and stretches it thin across an escalating series of violent escapades.

As Basilio moves the clan, which includes young Francisco (Benny Emmanuel) and younger brother Damasco (Gael Zarate), into a virtually uninhabitable warehouse, Sofia endures an interminable succession of horrors — from the glum environs to Basilio’s continuous drug binges — even as Corea’s dead youth appears as a ghost to protect Francisco from the father’s abuses, always in the nick of time.

Unsurprisingly, Francisco responds to all this by acting out at school, especially against playground bully Frias (Isaac Bravo). He develops a puppy-dog love for Roxana (Alicia Zapien), but there seems to be no escape from the cover of certain doom in which Carrera wraps every scene. When Basilio foolishly joins a pack of crooks for an ill-fated heist, which gets him into further trouble with a local criminal godfather, the only question that remains is how far the tragic can descend past bathos into unintentional comedy.

Much of this taxes some good actors past their breaking point, including Alcazar, who plays against his finest instincts for irony and self-ridicule in service of a role that’s all brute force. Zacarias merely reacts, with varying shades of terror and frustration. Emmanuel comes off best, directly conveying Francisco’s torn emotions and growing fear of his father, in what could nevertheless have been a much better-written role.

HD vid lensing by Martin Boege appears too slick for the grim surroundings, while Salvador Parra’s detailed production design makes an odd fit with Charlie Iturriaga’s cheesy visual effects; certain other production touches (such as a sequence in which Damasco imagines becoming an R2-D2-style flying robot) rep money ill spent. The pretentious music soundtrack includes Arvo Part cues to boost the gravitas.

From Childhood

Mexico

Production

A Malayerba Prods./Argos Cine presentation. Produced by Javier Patron Fox, Ignacio Ortiz Cruz, Carlos Carrera. Executive producer, Raymundo Diaz-Gonzalez. Co-producers, Epigmenio Ibarra, Gina Teran. Directed by Carlos Carrera. Screenplay, Silvia Pasternac, Fernando Leon, Carrera, based on the novel "Una infancia en el mas alla" by Jesus Mario Gonzalez Suarez.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Martin Boege; editor, Oscar Figueroa; music, Camilo Froideval, Raul Vizzi; production designer, Salvador Parra; costume designer, Mariestela Fernandez; sound (stereo), Isabel Munoz Cota; sound designer, Maria Martinez Cobos; re-recording mixer, Miguel Hernandez Montero; visual effects supervisor, Charlie Iturriaga. Reviewed at Guadalajara Film Festival (competing), March 15, 2010. Running time: 120 MIN.

With

Damian Alcazar, Giovanna Zacarias, Ernesto Gomez Cruz, Benny Emmanuel, Alicia Zapien, Gael Zarate, Rodrigo Corea, Hector Holten, Isaac Bravo.

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