Taking a simple situation — a single mother living with her kids — and exploring its downside to the ultimate consequences, Pedro Aguilera’s “The Influence” ends up somewhere between a homage to the later movies of Robert Bresson, a grueling psychodrama, a Gothic horror and a savage indictment of society. Dramatically wobbly and sometimes unconvincing, this potent and disturbing item still exerts a powerful pull, particularly in its later stages. Commercial prospects are slimmer than slim, but edgier fests could bite.
First hour feels like a lengthy prelude to a tragedy, which then inevitably happens. A depressive woman (Paloma Morales) lives in a grim Madrid suburb and works in a drugstore where she spends long hours alone, smoking cigarettes and taking antidepressants. Her kids, teenager Jimena (Jimena Alba Jimenez) and younger Romeo (Romeo Manzanedo) are — somewhat strangely, given her obviously precarious financial situation — being educated privately. Mealtimes are grimly silent; the father is never mentioned.
One day, the woman is told she’s behind with the rent on the store and is threatened with eviction. She does nothing. Paloma then picks up a stranger in a drug store and has joyless sex with him; it’s quickly becoming clear she’s on a slippery slope to nowhere.
Inevitably, the woman arrives at the drugstore one day to find her possessions out on the street. She has to take the kids out of school and is driven to stealing gifts for the kids. Ultimately, she falls ill, and the pic’s haunting, final 15 minutes, with the kids fending for themselves, are some of the pic’s best — involving moments of lyricism and heartbreak — if not the most plausible.
Acting is basically slice-of-life, with the thesps, all nonpros, sometimes left to improvise with the camera running.
Pic is full of long takes of the blank-faced mother, which adds to the general air of harsh realism but can be dull. The occasional use of slow motion is sometimes effective, but sometimes deja vu, as during a shower scene. Much of what little dialogue there is tellingly comes from the imported cartoons that come shrieking from the TV, which is always on.
Best perfs are from the kids, a spontaneous, lively counterpoint to their semi-catatonic mother. Choral music by Thomas Tallis is sparingly employed to typically unsettling effect.
The oblique title refers to the emotional numbness the mother seems to have passed to her daughter. For the record, the kids are lead player Morales’ real-life offspring.