Broken into two chapters, Guto Parente’s The Mysterious Death of Pérola is a slow-burn murder mystery revolving around isolation and loneliness. An experimental mélange of digital and home video imagery displaying the ordinary and the routine within the confines of a French apartment where the atmosphere slowly swells sinister.
Most of the film’s actions take place in and around the aforementioned apartment where Pérola (Ticiana Augusto Lima) is currently staying; she has left everything behind – her country, her home and her boyfriend – for the opportunity to study art in France. Parente sets the tempo early on, through an introduction of sorts, as Pérola peruses the confines of her new home presented in a parade of static shots, simply showcasing the lay of the land, devoid of dialogue. Pérola preps the landscape checking the utilities and the springiness of the mattress while also unlatching all the farmhouse windows, blinding white light engulfing the frame, along with Pérola.
An overall sense of disquiet breeds foreboding as the sparse piano score builds frantic and hypnotic. The fixed frame always steadily encroaching upon various focal points imbuing every scene with an ominous air, teetering on palpable yet cryptic and protracted regarding its intent and inevitable arrival. As Pérola’s isolation and loneliness grows, the few possessions she has appear to taunt her; the classical paintings of Caravaggio, Renoir and Greuze that hang from the walls of the desolate rooms lull Pérola into nostalgia, social scenes sparking reminiscings delivered via camcorder footage, haunting instead of fond recollections culminating in a nightmare of the highest order. Experimental imagery of skinless rams and the garbled face of a stranger swirling around her disorientating, ending in dial tones. Every space of the apartment now a menacing nook of the unexpected as the tick-tock swing of the pendulum remains constant.
An undeniably unique mix of still-life banality along with the unnerving imagery and sounds of ubiquitous terror of a solitary existence, The Mysterious Death of Pérola presents a number of disturbing occurrences with little to no fanfare. Subtle touches of the unsettling inhabit the film throughout – a stock-still chandelier casting an increasingly swaying shadow, the sudden appearance of faces and body masses in the windows, clockwork-like comings of disembodied footsteps leading to nowhere – coalescing into a masterclass of slow-burn horror free of jump scares, blood and gore…muted and suffocating all at once.
All of these unsettling happenings are complemented brilliantly from a shifting score of sparse piano music, chugging trance-like guitar chords and electronica melodies of classical composers Ravel, Webern and Boulez, effortlessly amplifying the tension and unease of the entire experience.
The Mysterious Death of Pérola plays like a two-person talent showcase for Guto Parente (actor, writer, director, cinematographer and editor) and Ticiana Augusto Lima (actor, cinematographer, art direction, costume design and producer); a creeping horrorshow of a young woman’s mental state deteriorating from isolation and nostalgia-laced paranoia and a young man’s, subsequent, amatuer ghost hunting endeavor revealing the spectre-like muscle memory of the empty spaces as he lives out of the last days of her existence.