There is more than one way to create tension in a film: actors can take on an aggressive posture; characters can have conflict in their backstory; filmmakers can use smash cuts or dramatic music; the plot itself can create discord. The Incident manages to use all of these. When brothers Carlos and Oliver enter a stairwell to escape detective Marco, none of them realize that there is no way out. When they reach the first floor, the door is sealed, and they turn to see a sign below for the ninth floor. Marco races down another ten flights of stairs, only to encounter Carlos and Oliver waiting below. After a day, they notice that the stairwell vending machine is mysteriously restocked.
In another time and place, we meet a happy family preparing for a weekend at the sea. Stepfather Roberto is anxious for the chance to bond with stepson Daniel. When daughter Camila has an asthma attack, her mother, Sandra, insists they turn back. After a few minutes, they drive past a very familiar service station. One by one the family accepts that they are trapped in a loop. As we bounce back and forth between the two stories, first-time director Isaac Ezban shows us how the different characters cope with their new reality, while unveiling some riveting connections.
The Incident is the most intense film I have seen at BIFF. Fans of LOST will notice several connections to the series, including the title, borrowed from one of the show’s best episodes, and Edy Lan’s extremely dramatic score. The film is, at its heart, science fiction, an exploration of different realities and the possible limits of free will. As different characters adjust to the smaller, barely changing world in different ways (the lights never go off, the sun never goes down, though they do have to deal with trash), it becomes clear that certain people adapt better than others. Conflict is a central point of the film, as one character in each scenario blames another for the death of a loved one.
Ezban paints a mostly pessimistic picture of life. The film serves as a metaphor for the routines and “loops” that we all find ourselves in, and shows how we are all condemned to repeat those cycles. We also see the younger characters repeating the mistakes of the old, despite the elders’ sage advice. The main message of this mindbendingly entertaining picture is the even those who do know history are doomed to repeat it.