Has no clue what it is or what it should be
During his acceptance speech at last year’s Golden Globe Awards, Bong Joon Ho infamously said, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” And he was right; however, at the same time overcoming that barrier also means opening yourself to some not so amazing films like Embryo.
Now, I’m going to preface this review by stating that I did not like this film, but if I had to pick an aspect of it that I disliked least it would be the direction. Don’t get me wrong. A lot of director Patricio Valladares’ choices are either odd or off-putting, but every now and then there’s a cool (albeit brief) moment of clarity. For instance, too much of this film is made up of quick cuts and close-ups. As a result, there was a long time in this already short film (71 minutes) that I couldn’t exactly tell what was happening. Characters die off-screen, but then the camera lingers on their corpses for so long that your disbelief dries up because you start to see just how cheap some of the practical effects look.
Additionally, the film is broken into three parts, but the way in which each part flows into the next feels so unnatural. Because of this, I thought that the film was an anthology for the first half hour until the film revisited the first set of characters. Honestly, it might have made more sense if the film was an anthology too.
Of the film’s three stories, the main one follows a couple camping in a part of the forest with a horrific history. When we first meet the man and the woman, they’re in love and on track to get married. One evening the woman vanishes though. And when the man finds her the following morning, he notices something strange about her. Once he takes her to a doctor, and she begins to feast on him, he realizes the extent to which she’s been changed.
Over the course of the film it’s revealed that unexplained events have been happening in that particular forest for years, and the two other stories act as avenues that provide the audience with an idea of just how “cursed” the area is. One of the stories follows another woman - years prior - who also gets abducted in those woods, but comes back pregnant (spoiler alert, her husband’s not the father). The other story chronicles a group of friends shooting a project near the area, up until one of them goes mad and kills the rest.
It isn’t until some lazy exposition at the very end of the film - after the film’s ending title sequence - that we learn of another connection between the three stories. As I stated before, the film might have been better off if the stories were only tied together by their setting, or even if they were totally unrelated because that final connection feels so forced.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Even with the film being so short, I can only tell you the name of one character: Evelyn. She’s the woman that goes missing in the main story, but the only reason I even remembered her name is because her fiance is constantly screaming it. Despite knowing it though, I can’t tell you a single thing about her because she’s one-dimensional just like everyone else in this film. Even with all the pain and suffering the characters in this film endure, not once do you ever feel compelled to care because the acting is so bad.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
The bad acting is also one of the things that makes it so hard to suspend your disbelief, alongside the bad effects. While a majority of the effects employed by the film are practical, they all look fake. I mentioned earlier that whenever the camera lingers for more than a few seconds on a dead body any disbelief you may have already had becomes shattered; however, one of the things that bothered the most was just how fake the blood looked. In terms of both color and consistency, it actually looked a lot more like wine. To add insult to the obviously fake injuries though, it looks as if less effort was put into the effects as the film goes on. While one of the first bodies we see looks decent, one of the final ones looks like a pile of raw meat from the supermarket. And because the practical effects are so bad, I suppose I’m sure you can guess what any of the attempts at digital visual effects are like.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The use of sound on the other hand isn’t bad, but the reason why it hurts the film is because it isn’t used to its full potential. There are really one or two sequences in the entire film where I can actually remember the sound being effective. None occur during the main story though, unless you count the lead male yelling Evelyn’s name repeatedly.
The film also has the most amount of voiceover I think I’ve ever seen (and heard). Despite a pretty big exposition dump at the start of the film using title cards, the film constantly has secondhand characters like news anchors filling in the gaps for the audience. This continues to the literal end. Because the film is so short, it makes no sense for the film to have so much exposition. For that, the film could have been a little longer with either more scenes showing what’s happened, or actually having our main characters discover what’s going on. I found the constant over explanation both boring and insulting to my intelligence, and I think that others who see this film will feel similarly because there’s only so much you can spoon feed the audience before they become fed up.
We may only be a quarter of the way through 2021, but I doubt there’ll be another film as frustrating or confusing as Embryo this year. Simply put, it has no clue what it is or what it should be. With so many bad ideas exercised in between, it’s apparent that the identity crisis it suffers from could have easily been nurtured in its infancy.