Two men who are taxidermists by day venture deep into the Argentinean wilderness for a hunting trip.
Finding the inn full where he usually stays, the bullying trip organizer Sontag (Alejandro Awada) and his buddy, the quiet, retreating Espinosa (Ricardo Darín) are forced to seek lodging deeper in the woods. They decamp at a remote cabin owned by an unseen criminal patriarch named Dietrich and operated by his fawn-like, somber young wife, Diana (Dolores Fonzi).
There is no Deliverance banjo music in Argentine director Fabián Bielinsky's The Aura, but filmgoers will feel a definite, prickly skin sensation, nevertheless, that something sinister is afoot in this increasingly tense, psychologically gripping thriller.
After an ugly confrontation over Espinosa's reluctance to shoot an animal, Sontag flees the woods. And from there, The Aura becomes a haunting exercise in a reality gilded by the surreal.
Espinosa has the demeanor of a sleepwalker; a slow, deliberate pace and an ability to stand on the sidelines unnoticed. Among strangers in this remote setting, that curiously alienated demeanor helps him. After discovering the evil Dietrich's secret hideaway, he proceeds with great caution and curiosity into an impersonation of a criminal mastermind. Convincing Dietrich's criminal associates that he means business, he indulges a caper fantasy by helping mastermind a heist at the local hotel casino.
We get some sense of the potential chaos churning inside Espinosa early on in the film by the violent methods he uses to prepare one of his specimens, dipping a needle into the fragile skin, hammering a nail into its fur. Like those dead things he makes live again, Espinosa changes from a passive creature to one of consequence, though the consequences most often prove disastrous.
Like so many movie chumps past, Espinosa moves from the safe confines of his workday routine, slipping animals skins like sweaters over the lifeless forms of foxes, into a more explicitly violent world whose vast malevolence soon overwhelms him.
Director Bielinsky died this past summer of a heart attack, a real loss to world cinema on the evidence of his deeply troubling contemporary noirs and his eerily original voice.
The Aura. 4 stars. Directed by Fabián Bielinsky. Stars Ricardo Darín, Dolores Fonzi, Pablo Cedrón. Not rated. Opens Fri., Jan. 12. At the Plaza Theatre. In Spanish with English subtitles.
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