Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Gisberg Bermudez
Writer: Gisberg Bermudez, Gisyerg Bermudez, Irina Dendiouk
Producer: Adolfo Lopez
Stars: Leonidas Urbina, Vladimir Garcia, Martin Marquez, Valeria Oribio, Ananda Troconis, Fernando Gaviria, Daniela Bueno
Across two timelines, a cursed bloodline creates a terrifying entity that takes revenge against people who commit evil acts.
I don’t cover a lot of foreign language content because frankly, those movies generally don’t draw anywhere near as many interested eyes as their English-language peers. Nevertheless, I personally enjoy making time for any foreign fright film that can not only offer a unique tour of another country, but can broaden my awareness of a culture-specific legend that was previously unfamiliar. Such is the case with “The Whistler,” which goes by “El Silbon: Origenes” in its native Spanish.
According to 19th-century folklore, or the internet’s aggregate interpretation of it anyway, ‘The Silbon’ disemboweled his father as revenge for his abused wife’s murder. The young man’s grandfather punished The Whistler by leashing him to a post and sending starving dogs to maul him. The old man then condemned El Silbon to carry his father’s bones in a sack as he roamed the Los Llanos region of Columbia and Venezuela, punishing drunks, misogynists, and womanizers in the form of a terrifying otherworldly entity.
While other variations exist, there isn’t much more to the basic story than that. Then again, there isn’t much more to La Llorona’s story either, so The Whistler at least falls in line with other terse Latin American legends.
For a movie subtitled “Origins,” it’s a little weird that “The Whistler” doesn’t follow the folktale’s backstory faithfully, opting for its own slant on The Whistler’s beginnings instead. In the film, a man named Baudilio curses his bloodline by killing a shaman/priest who cryptically promised him a child, yet neglected to warn that Baudilio’s wife would die giving birth. Baudilio’s predilection for evil actions worsens as his son Angel grows older. After a woman whom I believe is the boy’s aunt (the film isn’t clear) is no longer around to offer protection, Baudilio starts chaining up Angel outside. Angel grows up in confinement with limited human interaction, taking to whistling as his sole means of communication.
Local girl Victoria takes a curious interest in Angel’s oddness. When Baudilio rapes Victoria, Angel breaks his chains and takes revenge by murdering his father. Unfortunately, Baudilio’s caged dogs break free from their own chains and kill Angel.
Angel’s story doesn’t end there. Bouncing back and forth between two timelines, “The Whistler” interweaves Angel’s past with the present day tale of Gabriel and Mayra, who believe their daughter Ana is possessed. Gabriel enlists the help of a priest when Ana creates disturbing drawings that predict horrible deaths, including her father’s. The mystery uncovered connects back to Angel when The Whistler supernaturally reappears to exact his brutal brand of revenge after a horrible family secret is exposed.
Usually when a film unfolds across interlocking arcs, concurrent plots parallel each other in a complementary fashion that enhances both narratives. Think of the storytelling payoffs found in “Sliding Doors,” “Pulp Fiction,” even the “Silence of the Lambs” scene where you’re led to believe Clarice Starling is raiding Buffalo Bill’s house with the FBI only to find out she is actually alone. Key moments hit high notes because of how two timelines frame an audience’s perspective.
Outside of obvious similarities such as awful fathers and savage murders, the two arcs in “The Whistler” don’t thematically mirror each other much at all. The gradual reveal of how Angel became The Whistler should breathe unique life into Gabriel’s story that couldn’t be obtained in another format and vice versa. Instead, it feels like “The Whistler” merely chopped up two separate movies only to alternate between them both at the detriment of cohesiveness.
Angel’s arc isn’t difficult to follow, but Gabriel and Ana get tripped up by some ambiguous additions involving a possible witch and implied molestation. I say “possible” and “implied” because “The Whistler” has a habit of being vague about everyone’s identities and motives. Even after assembling scenes chronologically while writing my detailed story summary, the present day portion of the narrative still didn’t become significantly clearer regarding who’s who and what’s what.
“The Whistler” carries a light load in the fright department too. It’s a slow burn from the get go, which is fine. But even when The Whistler finally assumes his fearsome form, he becomes burdened by the background bit about being a vengeance-oriented villain. Bad guys built on tormenting other bad guys are always a hard sell because the rest of us who are not child murderers or rapists have no reason to worry. The Whistler isn’t Freddy killing kids suffering for their parents’ sins or Jason slaughtering average campers. Not only does The Whistler punish people who deserve it, the film spends a great deal of time building sympathy for him as a beaten little boy, all of which severely hampers his capacity to be truly terrifying.
Addressing the full half of the glass, superlative cinematography surpasses shaky fiction. With part of the film set in an older era (once again exact details aren’t specified) against the backdrop of a Venezuelan countryside, “The Whistler” captures similar visual vibes as “Hagazussa” (review here), “The Head Hunter” (review here), arguably even “The Witch” (review here). Filmmaker Gisberg Bermudez exhibits competent, even impressive cinematic skills on the technical side. If “The Whistler” tightened its screenplay, or perhaps reconfigured its edit, it would undoubtedly be stronger as an experience in semi-dreamy dread.
Due to the modest complexity of its modern day portions, I’d probably get more out of “The Whistler” on a second viewing, but the first screening doesn’t stoke enough of a fire to compel me to press Play again. I’m still grateful I took the single spin as it introduced me to a new slice of South American spookiness. I only wish I came away more creeped out by the content than confounded by the chronology.
Review Score: 50