MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND bakes a sick cake and eats it, too; a could-happen horror story about desperation and exploitation (an attractive woman, an immigrant) walking a creepy—ultimately really creepy— line between dark voyeurism, canny creativity and urgent self-promotion. Beyond a nose bleed, not a drop of blood is shed, but plenty of clothes are (female, naturally–how many men get naked in fright films?), yet this time the nervous titillation of mixing sex with terror is conceived, arranged and managed by a woman—Spanish actress Ana Asensio, who stars and directs this buzz-collecting 2017 chiller, which she also wrote and co-produced. She excels in every aspect.
‘Luciana’ has left Spain after some trauma (a lost child, apparently—the movie is rife with audience guesswork) and does whatever jobs she can seize to eke survival in the promising, perilous hive of New York City. Sly friend ‘Olga’ (Natasha Romanova) suggests a way to make a quick two grand: grab a hot dress, don heels and attend a ‘private party’. Driven to distraction by her spirit-sapping work as babysitter (for two kids so obnoxious you wish they’d suddenly come upon an open sidewalk grate), flat-broke, she takes a labyrinthine path to the mysterious meet-up. Big mistake? Or…?
The open-ended finale seems truncated and a wee cheat initially, but on reflection the wrap fits this original psychological nerve-shredder, its subtext the pitiless commodification of humans, what amounts to semi-voluntary human trafficking. Apart from one brief altercation, the threat of violence is present in Asensio’s script (which she based off some of her own experiences in Manhattan) but the real damage is spiritual, and it’s (hint) spider-web covers not just Luciana, Olga and the other ‘party favors’ going a step beyond the requirements of Eyes Wide Shut, but the venal, soul-barren ‘guests’, there to be entertained.
Asensio’s intimate direction heightens the nightmare (all over one day, in 80 minutes of running time) from ascending levels of half-comic/half-frustrating indignity to escalating tension, then to palpable dread. Instead of the pulp-grind teen vixen victim of countless crummy shockers, Asensio’s 39-year old visage and form are a mature blend of ripe sensuality mixed with worry lines and wounded eyes and her soulful performance is fairly searing. Her work (she’s in nearly every scene) is framed by those from the equally striking Romanova (what a teasing, knowing, wicked pair of eyes) and the commandingly campy Caprice Benedetti, practically a vampire as the sexy-sinister ‘hostess’ of the show-stopper.
With David Little, Nicolas Tucci, Larry Fessenden, Ami Sheth, Anna Myrha and Jennifer Sorika Wolf. Prepare for some skin crawl.