Argentinian horror offering History of the Occult (Historia de lo Oculto; 2020) is a tantalizing puzzle that takes place just before and during the final broadcast of a television news show. Cristian Ponce makes an intriguing feature-film debut as a writer/director, combining elements of fear fare, film noir, and mystery.
Sixty Minutes Before Midnight is a late-night television program that has made its share of enemies, with sponsors steering clear and now the network pulling the plug after the episode shown here. The show’s crew plans to go out huge, though, hoping to expose that the Argentinian president is part of a coven that also features this night’s interview subject, reputed warlock Adrián Marcato (German Baudino). Even though the crew is saving some of its surprises for air time — if, that is, their mechanisms outside of the broadcast studio all fall into place — mysterious forces seem to be thwarting secrets making it to broadcast.
Shot mostly in black-and-white — with a first bit of color played as impressively as an expert chess move — and set somewhere between the 1960s and 1980s, going by fashion and technology on display, History of the Occult is an intelligent thriller that continually builds in suspense. Viewers see the program’s on-screen clock tick down towards zero with events continually heating up, and cuts to crew members out on the streets offer rewarding hand-wringing moments, as well.
Some events hinge on how the final episode’s guests react to each other and to questions from the show’s host, and I found myself as excited to see how those moments panned out as much as the show’s crew members — who, by the way, chew on tannis root (which Rosemary’s Baby made well known as a cinematic witchcraft reference) as part of the night’s plan. The ensemble cast — which also includes Nadio Lozano, Agustín Recondo, and Héctor Ostrofsky, among others — is top notch, with everyone adding to the sense of urgency at play.
History of the Occult screened as part of Fantaspoa 2021, which ran in Brazil on the streaming platform Darkflix from April 9–18, 2021.(4 / 5)