A psychological thriller with wasted potential
This newest Argentinian film on Netflix dabbles between operating as a lascivious revenge story, and a more weighted psychological thriller. While the premise for both aspects seems visible to a viewer, the execution feels off. The oscillation in tone and direction becomes weaker in the second, which more or less establishes a clear path of ‘The Wrath of God’. Once that happens, the narration seems better and more engaging. But the overall execution is lackluster.
‘The Wrath of God’ focuses on Kloster, a successful writer, and his inadvertent connection with Luciana, his former assistant. She leaves Kloster’s employment after he kisses her against her wishes. The situation is misread by him and she files a suit for sexual harassment. Kloster’s wife, Mercedes, has a history of spending time in the institution after her career-ending injury. Their daughter Pauli has issues of her own and has compatibility trouble with Mercedes.
One day, she receives Luciana’s complaint in the post. This is an overwhelming feeling for her, having not known about this before. She murders Pauli in the bathtub and then commits suicide. Esteban, a journalist and former writing rival of Kloster, investigates Luciana’s claim that Kloster is killing off her family members in lieu of revenge.
The non-linear approach makes way for two timelines – once in the past, about twelve years ago, while the second is the present day. To make the transition more seamless, the former leads to the latter, which starts and ends at the same point.
It takes quite a while for ‘The Wrath of God’ to get to its point. But, at that juncture, you do not have answers as a viewer. The subjective nature of its conclusion beckons you to view the story against your own moral and intellectual contours. At times, director Sebastian Schindel looks like he is about to give you the answers to the core mystery of the story. Through Esteban or off-focus shots, we do come close to knowing what is wrong. As the stop approaches, though, we get further away from any closure. Unconsciously or not, Schindel mimics the psyche of Luciana to the viewer. Both trudge in the dark, looking for answers that are no more than speculative bets in the present form.
Ambiguity is probably the foremost word to encapsulate ‘The Wrath of God’s demonic torture. For the type of events that transpire in its narrative, the lack of menace and bite is surprising. Schindel has quite the trick up his sleeve. He has to be commended for not following conventional genre knowledge to reach similar destinations. His defiance of commonplace traditions is akin to what Kloster feels his relationship with God and fate is. An important element of the build-up and tension here is the lack of information. When most of the supposed violent acts take place, the camera looks the other way. This choice suggests a strong interest to pique the imaginative power of the viewer.
At the same time, it also positions Schindel as a man averse to the aesthetics of savagery that make for such good popcorn entertainment. The central conceit of the film lies in the tussle between divine justice and human revenge. While the former is pure, absolute, and balances the scales of harm, the latter is personal, vile, and disproportionate. Kloster’s continuous references to lex talionis – an eye for an eye – seem to tease both Luciana and us. The inherent deception in his comparison of Biblical legends and reality comes through to elevate the story.
Despite the potential and effective weapons at his hands, Schindel is not able to distinguish his storytelling from a television episode. The astray craftsmanship and missing polish in the end product do not let the execution become impactful. Its effect is somewhat stunted by a lack of enterprising spirit.
It reminds me of the Hirokazu Kore-eda film, The Truth (2019). Keeping the two side by side, we see how the same ingredients of story can translate into two different versions when treated by different filmmakers. ‘The Wrath of God’ plays too much into intangible elements of its altruistic philosophy of film, turning the end product some way short of a satisfying experience. The rawness of its ideas is refreshing and charming, though.
Verdict - 6/10