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Original title: Camaleón

D: Jorge Riquelme Serrano / 80m

Cast: Gastón Salgado, Paula Zúñiga, Paulina Urrutia, Alejandro Goic

For couple Paulina (Urrutia) and Paula (Zúñiga), it’s the morning after a party for their friends to say goodbye to Paulina before she embarks on a trip to England. Their house overlooking the ocean is a mess, but Paula soon sets to cleaning up, while Paulina showers and gets dressed. They share breakfast together, then while Paula tends to a sink that’s overflowed, there’s a knock at the front door. Paulina opens the door to find Gastón (Salgado), there on behalf of their mutual friend, Franco (Goic), who has sent Gastón to apologise for Franco’s rude behaviour at the party. Franco has sent wine glasses that Paulina likes, and a bottle of wine. Paula is a little dismayed by Gastón’s arrival, as she was expecting to spend the day alone with Paulina, but the pair make Gastón welcome, and soon the wine has been poured, and the three of them are discussing various matters related to their jobs, and as time goes on, the relationship between the two women. As Paula becomes more and more drunk from the wine, animosities are revealed, and when she becomes incapacitated, Gastón’s true reason for being there is revealed…

A slow, carefully paced thriller that is unsettling to watch on several occasions, Chameleon is also a telling drama that examines themes surrounding sexual identity and class. When we first meet Gastón, it’s in a prologue that shows him flirting and being intimate with Franco, and so when he later admits that he’s only known Franco since the night before, no one is surprised, and it all seems like a normal occurrence. And Serrano is in no hurry to disabuse the viewer of this idea, even though Gastón is wearing one of Franco’s shirts, and Franco can’t be contacted. Gastón’s presence seems plausible enough, and even though Paulina suspects him of lying about his work, there’s no sense that he’s there for any other reason than the one he’s mentioned. Instead, the greater threat – if any at this stage – comes from the adversarial nature of the two women’s relationship. Paulina is the boss, while Paula adopts a more servile attitude, but the wine allows Paula to express her true feelings about Paulina’s superior attitude, and the lack of a child in their relationship. Throughout all this bickering and emotional unloading, Gastón remains calm and quietly supportive of both of them, and seems genuinely concerned when Paula begins to feel unwell.

This all accounts for the first half of the movie, and Serrano maintains a slow build up that shows a calculated restraint in setting up what is a much darker, less “normal” second half. What happens once Paula is put to bed is a nightmare scenario that plays out in a matter-of-fact way that is augmented by Serrano’s decision to make the viewer an unwilling observer. Ensuring that the camera is there to record what happens instead of providing the viewpoint for any one of the characters, Serrano challenges the audience to keep looking, even though there’s nothing graphic to see. Instead, he builds on the menace that has been there from the beginning, from that unremarkable prologue with Gastón and Franco, and tightens the screws accordingly. It’s a home invasion movie with a grim sense of foreboding about it, and it’s one that doesn’t supply the viewer with any easy answers as to Gastón’s motives (some can be guessed at, but none are definitive). There are solid performances from Salgado and Zúñiga (Urrutia’s character is too one-dimensional to be entirely effective), and Cristián Petit-Laurent’s cinematography is disposed primarily to unnerve the viewer, something that it achieves with verve. And then there’s the ending…

Rating: 8/10 – an undeniably tough watch from the halfway mark onwards, Chameleon is a dark, uncompromising thriller that knows how to make the viewer uneasy – even when they’re not sure why they should be; an impressive debut from Serrano, it’s a movie that’s best approached with as little knowledge about it as possible, and with a willingness on the viewer’s part to accept that the painstaking build up of the first half is a necessary precursor to what follows.