'Black Hollow Cage'
As beautifully made and complex as it is thuddingly dull and confused, ‘Black Hollow Cage’ is easy to admire and almost impossible to enjoy. Spanish writer/director Sadrac González-Perellón may be a craftsman and ambitious artist indebted, but he’s not in this early stage of his career a particularly exciting or driven storyteller.
The director is more concerned with the style and seriousness of his movie than how it flows or moves audiences. While ‘Black Hollow Cage’ definitely has some impressive passages and images, many viewers will be too sleepy to notice by the time they arrive. Lord knows I struggled to maintain focus, and I watch boring movies every week for a living.
Our heroine (of sorts) is a young girl named Alice (Lowena McDonell). She lives in a gorgeous but distressingly sterile house in the woods with her father, Adam (Julian Nicholson), and her “mom.” I use quotation marks because in this case “mom” is a family dog who can speak via a translator on her collar. So, we’re safely in sci-fi territory here. Alice has also recently been fitted with a robotic arm replacement following some secret tragedy. She’s in the process of learning how to use it and not doing particularly well. Shortly after that, Alice finds a mysterious ‘2001’-esque black box in the middle of the woods and discovers that it alters time somehow. It gives her a note that reads, “They are not to be trusted” in Alice’s own handwriting. (Oooooh!) Around the same time, poppa Adam finds a couple of injured teens named Erika (Haydée Lysander) and Paul (Marc Puiggener) in the woods and brings them into the family home to heal. Hmmmmm… I wonder…
The premise that González-Perellón serves up is not without interest. The concept of receiving increasingly worrying notes from a future self has plenty of potential. He also cast his lead character well, with youngster Lowena McDonell finding plenty of moody angst to ground the more outlandish elements of the production. The way the story slowly morphs into a project more about grief than timeline-leaping shenanigans adds weight and purpose. González-Perellón even proves to be a gifted visual storyteller, with unsettlingly long takes and rigidly symmetrical frames that trap characters within their surroundings and deliver a steady and unnerving tension.
Unfortunately, all of that comes with a big ol’ “but.” While so many individual images, ideas, characters, and elements within ‘Black Hollow Cage’ register, none of them come together with the power or purpose that was obviously intended. Some of the blame can be laid on the supporting cast, who often stumble through their roles confused by what’s been asked of them.
Sadly, most of the movie’s failings fall squarely on the shoulders of the director himself. His decision to pace his story so glacially and provide information so vaguely may have been intended to build mystery for a big payoff, but the storytelling style comes off as dry and dull. Everything takes too long and none of the climactic choices justify the punishing journey it takes to get there. It’s a big pretentious build up to nothing that drags and bores rather than enticing and shocking.
That’s really a shame. ‘Black Hollow Cage’ has enough wonderfully disturbing ideas and moments to make it intriguing along the way. You’ll want to give the movie endless second chances because of those high notes, only to ultimately walk away disappointed. Sadrac González-Perellón came close to delivering whatever the hell strange movie idea that he had locked in his head, but he just couldn’t quite stick the landing. That’s a disappointment, but at least shows promise from a budding filmmaker and lead actress who could go on to bigger and better things. González-Perellón has talent and vision. He just needs to figure out what to do with them.