A dysfunctional father-son relationship unexpectedly improves after the teenager commits an atrocious crime and turns to dad for help in Fernando Guzzoni’s striking second feature, “Jesús.” The intense drama-thriller explores the generational gulf between adults who grew up under Pinochet’s dictatorship and modern-day youth living in a world with no moral compass. Already a director to watch since his narrative debut, “Dog Flesh” — a portrait of a former torturer under Pinochet — won San Sebastian’s New Directors Prize in 2012, Guzzoni stands out as one of Chile’s most exciting new voices.
Eighteen-year-old Jesús (Nicolás Durán, “No Filter”), born and raised in Santiago, probably behaves like a lot of kids of his age, less interested in finishing high school than in dancing in his amateur K-pop band, picking up girls, or getting wasted with his buddies and having random sex. But one of his “hobbies” is more specific to the region he lives in: watching narco execution snuff movies with his pals. That only partly explains his behavior on a drunken night when he and his friends find an unconscious boy in a park and beat the hell out of him, leaving him for dead.
The next day, Jesús learns on the news that the kid, a young homosexual, is in a coma, and police are searching for those responsible, “probably a neo-Nazi group.” He immediately turns to his best friend, Pizarro, one of the perpetrators. They reassure each other and end up having sex, but his new lover soon betrays him, informing the most frightening member of their gang that Jesús is considering surrendering to the police. Now hunted by the authorities and by his former friends, Jesús has no other choice than to seek the counsel of his estranged father Héctor (Alejandro Goic, “Dog Flesh,” “The Club”). A widower whose work takes him far from home, Hector almost doesn’t know his son anymore. Positioned as a raw coming-of-age story, “Jesús” takes on a thriller edge as the viewer is left to wonder if police will identify the teen, and how his far will his father go to protect him.
Superbly lensed in a jittery chiaroscuro by Uruguayan cinematographer Barbara Alvarez (“The Headless Woman”), “Jesús” investigates the darkest side of adolescence, raising a number of moral questions without providing easy answers. The top-notch cast is the icing on the cake, with Goic stoically embodying Chile’s hopes and failures while young Durán mesmerizes with his stunning androgyny.