PUNTO MUERTO (DEAD END)
Director: Daniel de la Vega
Writer: Daniel de la Vega
Stars: Daniel Miglioranza, Luciano Cáceres, Rodrigo Guirao Díaz, Natalia Lobo
The game has begun.
Punto Muerto is a noir-esque film that is very much a love letter to ’40s crime cinema. Luis Peñafiel (Daniel Miglioranza) is a murder-mystery writer who hasn’t had a bestseller for nearly a decade. The novel he is currently working on (Punto Muerto) — and struggling to finish — involves a murder that takes place within a closed room. His literary agent/critic Edgar Dupuin (Luciano Cáceres) pressures him to figure out the conundrum (how the killer manages to escape a locked room) and thus finish the novel. This tension follows them as they journey to a conference at a hotel in which they are both presenting.
While it is unclear exactly what the conference is, it has brought together an eclectic group of both writers and readers of crime fiction. On the second day of the conference, however, tragedy strikes. And the events that unfold at the hotel mirror Peñafiel’s latest work — which only a handful of people have read. With a penchant for drinking (ah, the artist’s curse!), Peñafiel doesn’t find it strange that he wakes up one morning without memory of the night before. But when Lupas (Rodrigo Guirao Díaz) — a fan, friend, and fellow mystery enthusiast — comes to wake Peñafiel up, a few things catch their attention. One, why is Peñafiel wearing a cape like that of the antagonist (Wraith) in his novel? And, two, whose blood is literally on his hands? From here, Punto Muerto becomes a quest to prove Peñafiel’s innocence and discover who is really behind the crimes.
While the murder mystery that unravels in the film is fairly conventional, and consequently predictable, there are several aspects of this film that make it stand out. First, Punto Muerto is 110% committed to the 1940s noir aesthetic. From the soft, high-contrast black and white, the stylized drama, and the run-time at the bottom, it delivers on all accounts. It is macabre and quirky, with all of the taut dialogue that you would expect. An area that really shines is the music. In a film with sparse dialogue, the music really helps to heighten the emotion, and it does so here brilliantly.
Moreover, as we expect with film noir, it is full of cynicism and moral ambiguity — which is all compounded by the ongoing conversations about creation and artistic ambition. Peñafiel regularly reflects on how easy it is to destroy both art and one’s self, and how it is much harder to create and to be something good and novel. “I know I can do better. I know I can do better. I know I can do better!” He repeats, frantically, as he falls into a writing frenzy. He also has countless conversations with Dupuin about the relationship between fear and imagination, which invite more reflection from the viewer than one would expect from a classic genre film. This amount of depth coupled with a satisfying conclusion, and a gorgeous black cat named Boris (who plays no small part in the film), make it difficult to find fault with Punto Muerto.
The North American premiere of Punto Muerto took place at the Cinepocalypse Film Festival on Friday, June 14, @4:45pm CST. The Cinepocalypse Film Festival ran from June 13 to 20, 2019, at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, Illinois. More information can be found here.