Fantasia 2019: The Incredible Shrinking Wknd
In 1993, Groundhog Day introduced to many the mildly terrifying concept of repeating the same day of your life multiple times, with Bill Murray’s bitter weatherman Phil Connors finding himself stuck in an infinite time loop. In this year’s Netflix series Russian Doll, Natasha Lyonne’s tough-talking New Yorker Nadia, and later the depressed and suicidal Alan, find themselves in a similar predicament. In both of these high-concept additions to the time-travel genre, the protagonists must undergo some sort of fundamental personality change, confronting their own demons in order to escape the time loop. In Jon Mikel Caballero’s new film, The Incredible Shrinking Weekend, the loop that Alba (Iria Del Río) is trapped in is finite; in fact, with every iteration of the weekend in question, her time is running out by one hour.
In the car on the way to the countryside cottage where she spent her holidays as a child, Alba jolts awake from a nap to the sound of her friend Claudia (Irene Ruiz), asking if she’s asleep. It’s a line we will hear multiple times throughout the film, as this is the exact point that Alba’s weekend repeatedly begins. The friendship group that she travels to the house with can be thought of as two separate parties - on one side, Claudia, her attentive boyfriend Mark (Jimmy Castro), and Alba’s boyfriend of three years, Pablo (Adam Quintero) are the responsible, mature ones who are seemingly done with partying and keen to ‘settle down’. When Claudia breaks the news to Alba that she and Mark will be relocating to Germany - Mark’s received a promotion at his high-profile job - Alba reacts with anger, to which Claudia replies, “We’re 30 now”, a fact that our protagonist is eager to ignore. Alba still lives with her father, drinks too much and never wants the party to end, much to Pablo’s irritation. She is joined in her hedonism by friends Sira (Nadia de Santiago) and Mancha (Adrián Expósito), and they become the only three to indulge in drug-taking and (very) questionable decisions. Del Rio is fantastic, playing Alba with a childlike naivete and an overwhelming need to cling on to both her adolescence and her failing relationship.
At first, The Incredible Shrinking Weekend plays out a lot like a horror. For starters, there’s the well-trodden cliché of a group of friends heading to a house in the quiet, peaceful countryside. As I’ve mentioned, Alba’s time is also running out, and we can only assume that the hope of a happy ending is futile. The film also plays with the conventions of horror throughout the first third: pulsating music, claustrophobic camerawork and quick-cutting. Even the near-constant sounds of nature that come from their pastoral surroundings, such as water trickling from the stream nearby, birds chirping and trees rustling in the wind, are unnerving. Not to mention the Stranger Things-esque, ominous synth music serving as the film’s soundtrack. And then, with plenty of run-time to spare, it becomes clear that this is something like a comedy… or is it a mystery? Maybe even a coming-of-age story? The answer is debatable, but by the narrative’s poignant climax, I found myself succumbing to tears, and definitely not those of fear.
Caballero and cinematographer Tânia da Fonseca make excellent use of the idyllic location, not only utilising the soundscape to disconcerting effect, but also placing Alba in expansive settings to represent the isolation she feels from her boyfriend and friends. The most impressive technique, though, is one I embarrassingly didn’t notice until about halfway through: as Alba repeats the same weekend over and over, the countdown she tracks on her phone getting ever closer, the picture also shrinks. The sides of the screen slowly inch towards each other, the aspect ratio narrowing, like the curtains at a cinema screening drawing to a close post-credits. Aside from the technological ability this exhibits, it also allows us to further empathise with the anxiety that Alba’s situation inevitably causes. While the concept at the heart of the narrative is not a new one, this is a touching, curious film that ensures an original approach to the subject, asking pertinent questions about family, getting older, and our need to cling onto the past.