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‘Mulat’ is All About Getting to the Twist

It's not a very good mystery, because even just describing the form that these visions and nightmares take will likely give away what the twist is.

Mulat first opened in 2014 as part of the MMFF New Wave selection for that year. It tells the story of Sam (Loren Burgos), who at the start of the movie is arguing with her fiancée Vincent (Ryan Eigenmann) in his car. They get into an accident, but she wakes up still in the car, safe and sound. When Vincent starts berating her again, she takes the opportunity to walk out on him instead. Though she resolves to focus on herself for the moment, she very quickly starts seeing Jake (Jake Cuenca). There is a lot of promise in this new relationship, but something isn't quite right.

Running parallel to the main plot are scenes from Sam's time with Vincent. These scenes depict how that relationship fell apart, with Sam pressuring Vincent into a commitment he isn't really ready for. These scenes play in contrast to the scenes with Jake, where Sam is the reluctant to commit to anything more serious. The arc is seemingly about Sam having to get over the trauma of her past relationship in order to find happiness with her new beau. But it's also playing another game, the movie hiding a twist that keeps it from fully addressing the issues at hand.

The twist is actually kind of an interesting concept, and it opens the film up to some intriguing metaphysical narrative possibilities. But because it's a twist, the movie never really gets to any of that. Instead, it circles Sam's relationships, never really going anywhere substantial. The stuff with Vincent feels redundant, the film pounding on the same points over and over. Her dalliance with Jake feels inconsistent, the Sam of this half of this movie at times difficult to reconcile with the rest of the story.

The movie ends up arranging its elements to play out as a mystery. The primary conflict stems from Sam occasionally getting visions and having nightmares. It's not a very good mystery, because even just describing the form that these visions and nightmares take will likely give away what the twist is. While all this is going on, there isn't much else happening in the narrative. There is some merit to the depiction of these relationships, and the exploration of the attitudes of these characters. But it all gets tedious as the movie takes steps to obscure the true nature of the story.

It looks all right for a low budget film. The camera captures the intimacy of these scenes, and the softness creates a dreamlike atmosphere that works well with this story. There are a few technical flaws here and there, but it more or less works out okay. Loren Burgos is a little broad, especially considering the material. The script is mainly these understated conversations about the nature of relationships. She clashes with the sobriety of the lines, and the restraint of the rest of the cast.

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Mulat arrives in theaters paired with director Diane Ventura's 2011 short film TheRapist, and it suffers from essentially the same problem as the feature. It treads intriguing narrative ground, but the need for a twist ends up getting in the way. There are certainly good ideas in both films, but gimmicky structures keep them from exploring them fully. The short could have followed through harder on its edgy premise, and the feature could have gotten to its reversal earlier, allowing the characters to deal with the oddness of the situation. Mulat ends just when things are getting interesting, which is often the case with so many films that rely on twists.

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