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The Island [Martin Van Hassel, Spain, 2018]

Four strangers – a young woman draped in a silk gown, a nanny, a musician and an old man – meet at a pedestrian crossing where they painstakingly wait for a newly installed traffic signal to aid them safely to the other side of the road. This is not the set up to an overwrought party joke, but instead is the premise for Martin Van Hassel’s The Island (La Mediana), a wonderfully executed black-comedy come paranormal drama that skilfully wrestles with themes of mortality, revenge, regret and forgiveness.

Much to the aforementioned characters’ inconvenience, the enabling green light eludes them, the ostensibly disparate characters growing increasingly impatient as each of their plans appear to be scuppered by this unwelcome intrusion to their daily routine. As the characters’ interactions develop we begin to realise that these people are not as random as they initially seem, and are in fact connected in a deeper and more emotionally disturbing way. The crossing, in this context, works as a visual metaphor, suggestive of the psychological purgatory that haunts one of the characters so intensely.

The Island is wonderfully shot by Íñigo Iglesias, with his angular cinematography in addition to the film's chalky colour palette, providing an unsettling tension to proceedings. The score is mostly effective, although there are a couple of vocal jazz insertions that grate slightly and distract from an otherwise extremely accomplished production. The fantastic visual effects, make-up, sound design and editing all contribute to the brilliantly slanted and perplexing plot. Martin Van Hassel Rolle’s direction here is first-class, and there are hints of visionaries like J. A. Bayona or Sam Raimi embedded within his own original and stylistic vocabulary. With more films like these under his belt, he is sure to turn heads at major film festivals in the future. Let’s hope he doesn’t have to wait too long for the green light.

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