“The Incident” (2014): Time Loops Lead to Claustrophobic Terror in Mexican Mind Bender

Auteur Isaac Ezban gained a well-deserved great deal of notice this year for his twisted Twilight Zone-ish film The Similars (reviewed here), and I predict that he will receive even more attention now that his debut feature-length effort The Incident (El Incidente; Mexico, 2014) is available on various home video options. While The Similars plays with classic Golden Age science-fiction movie concepts, The Incident takes the notion of time loops as its jumping-off spot.

The Incident has two starting points, as it were. The first sees detective Marco (Raúl Méndez) take brothers Carlos (Humberto Busto) and Oliver (Fernando Álvarez Rebeil) into custody in their apartment building for a low-level crime. As they walk down the staircase of the building to go to the police station, they hear a loud noise outside. For this and other reasons, tensions mount and panic sets in. Things only get worse when the trio discovers that the building seems to suddenly have no exits, with the bottom floor descending to the top one and the top floor ascending to the bottom.

Detective Marco (Raúl Méndez, right) arrests brothers  Carlos (Humberto Busto, right) and Oliver (Fernando Álvarez Rebeil, center),  but the trio  can’t find its  way out of a stairwell that seems to have no exits in writer/director Isaac Ezban’s debut feature The Incident.

At the other starting point, Mother Sandra (Nailea Norvind), her son Daniel (Gabriel Santoyo) and daughter Camilia (Paulina Montemayor), and Sandra’s second husband Roberto (Hernán Mendoza) prepare to take a road trip to the coast. While driving down a long, straight, road, they too hear a loud noise, and soon discover that no matter which direction they go, they are on the same stretch of road.

I have deliberately left out many elements of each story, as well as several important characters, because The Incident is full of rewards and surprises for viewers. Though my synopsis may make the story seem overly simple, Isaac Ezban uses repetition, looping, and other devices to create a perplexing film that demands viewers’ full attention. Some of the filmmaker’s philosophical and artistic sources are hinted at with book covers, giving clues about where everything may be headed, but Ezban’s metaphysical reaches aren’t easily defined by those sources. For all its mind-bending madness, The Incident sticks to the set of rules it establishes in the first half of the film and always remains engaging.

Daniel (Gabriel Santoyo) carries his ailing  sister Camilia (Paulina Montemayor) down a seemingly endless road.

What’s truly astounding is how big Isaac Ezban manages to make this film feel with a small budget and two main sets, with some other scenes set outside the stairwell and the road that dominate the film. He, production designer Adelle Achar, and their art department must have had a blast with the stairwell-set story, as it develops from a sparse set with not much more than a vending machine on display into a cluttered world showing signs of both frenzy and trying to maintain some semblance of what once passed for reality.

Isaac Ezban and cinematographer Rodrigo Sandoval also uses different cinematic styles for the two stories, with a combination of static and roving camerawork inside the stairwell and more static shots and larger scope for the road tale, to name a couple of examples. The result is a striking visual presentation that keeps viewers engrossed. Both original music by Edy Lan and a Schumann symphony are used to great effect to complement the visuals.  

A family cannot escape a stretch of deserted highway.

As I stated previously, I am deliberately not mentioning all of the characters and actors in The Incident so that first-time viewers can go in as fresh as possible. The cast is terrific throughout, and I do want to commend Leonel Tinajero and Marcos Moreno for their performances, in addition to those mentioned earlier.

Isaac Ezban’s The Incident is a challenging science fiction film that feels sort of like a Richard Matheson-type approach to a Möbius-strip tale. If Ezban’s sophomore film The Similars  (one of my favorite films of 2016) is a mind-blower, his debut feature is a mind-bender. With filming wrapped on Parallel, his third full-length motion picture as a director, it is exciting to wonder what Ezban will do with our minds next.    

The Incident: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.