Fantastic Fest Review: THE SIMILARS

This horror homage about identical people struggles for an identity.

Homage cinema can go a lot of different ways. On the high end, you have someone like Quentin Tarantino folding all his influences into films that pay respect to and clearly show affection for older movies yet thrive with originality. But then you also get filmmakers who straight up parody sub-genre tropes or recreate them without actually adding anything, as if to pat themselves on the back for accurately copying something.

I’m not sure exactly where The Similars goes on the spectrum. A pretty heavy Twilight Zone riff, The Similars wavers somewhere between sincerity and farce. Even its stance as an original film or near-ripoff is up for debate. The only thing I can tell you for sure is whether or not it’s any good. It’s not.

The Similars begins with a very attractive set up. A group of strangers in 1968 Mexico find themselves trapped by weather in a small bus station. For some reason, many of them begin growing big, bushy beards and suddenly find themselves wearing the same man’s face.

For a while, this goes about as expected. Everyone freaks out and looks for a scapegoat to blame for this terrifying turn of events. As the film reveals exactly what’s going on, however, The Similars goes from being a Twilight Zone riff to almost an adaptation of one specific episode (telling you which episode would be a spoiler).

At first there appears to be an effort to make the film a real genre entry. It’s creepy. There is a wonderful bit early on that uses cross cutting and loud cacophony to crescendo tension to impressive heights. The set, made to look not only like a theater stage but also painted with muted colors to give the effect of being black and white without actually going full-on black and white, feels otherworldly and strange regardless of what’s going on narratively.

But then everyone gets big beard faces, and there’s no way for it to not look silly, particularly when one little old lady gets hers. Once we have these goofy people wandering around yelling at each other, the film seems like intentional comedy. But there aren’t any jokes. And the violence, at times, reaches real horror levels. Then you have a big narrative reveal that apes a famous Twilight Zone episode to a blatant degree but without any winking. It’s not a fascinating layering of tones. It’s a hodgepodge running in too many directions to actually get anywhere. The empathy won during the film’s opening scenes disappears, and you’re left with a lot of volume but little meaning.

Ultimately, The Similars is basically a genre experiment. It walks that line using a visual tool ridiculous enough to knock it onto a different course completely. While you could say such a bizarre derailment makes the film more interesting than it would have been otherwise, it’s hard not to get frustrated about what could have been.