Skip to content

Plot: a young family finds that their new dwelling is haunted

Ghosts transcend cultures and timezones. Following the success of The Amityville Horror (1979) the international market was swept by American ghost movies. In the late nineties and at the dawn of the new millennium Hong Kong became the go-to place for quality ghost stories in the wake of movies like Ringu (1998), Ju-On: The Grudge (2002), Dark Water (2002) and The Eye (2002), all of which at some point or other were adapted for the American market. A decade from the Hong Kong movement the Spanish-speaking countries are experiencing a resurgence of horror cinema. Spain has a long history in terror – and horror cinema dating all the way back to the gothic horrors of the sixties, the many erotic vampire - and witchcraft movies from León Klimovsky and Jesús Franco. That is, of course, not counting the one-man industry that was Paul Naschy who rose to fame with his El Hombre Lobo werewolf movies and portrayed every classic Universal monster in the book. We Are Not Alone is the Peruvian equal of Verónica (2017). It is not nearly as scary, if it is scary at all, as it is atmospheric in the well-known Hong Kong tradition.

Apparently the horror cinema industry in Peru is just in a nascent stage at this point in time. The first domestic horror production was General Cemetery (2013) and it has since inspired other directors to follow the example. Daniel Rodríguez Risco is one of the country’s more celebrated directors having helmed various shorts and a number of feature length productions in a number of genres. Risco has won several awards in film festvivals across the globe and had a hand in writing, producing and directing some of the biggest Latin American blockbusters. As of 2016 We Are Not Alone is the only horror title in Risco’s filmography and he seems in no rush to return to the genre. We Are Not Alone is helmed with all the professionalism you’d expect of an experienced veteran of the big - and small screen. It wouldn’t at all be surprising if We Are Not Alone, toothless as it tends to be, ended up getting an American remake. Obviously there are far superior haunted house – and ghost movies. We Are Not Alone is unfortunately for the most part terribly bland.

As the manager of an important company Mateo (Marco Zunino) has been forced to move to the outskirts of Lima to meet the challenges of his job. Making the cross-country move along with him are his tween daughter Sofía (Zoe Arévalo) and second wife Mónica (Fiorella Díaz). The relationship between little Sofía and Mónica wasn’t the best to begin with and the relocation to Fundo Lazarte is the last thing two needed or were waiting for. The night that they have moved into the new place Sofía is immediately distrustful of her new surroundings and claims that monsters are hiding under her bed and that a priest should bless the house before they settle in properly. Mateo and Mónica shrug off Sofía’s strange request as childish superstition and a product of moving house against her will. It isn’t long before Mónica starts to experience the very forces that Sofía was talking about. Strange noises emit from the bowels of the residence, shadows move and inanimate objects start having a will of their own. After Mateo and Mónica discover a hidden chamber within their new home the hauntings become increasingly worse. The supernatural occurences inspire Mateo to dig into the history of Fundo Lazarte, a search that brings him to defrocked priest Padre Rafael (Lucho Cáceres). Rafael turns out to be familiar with the sordid history of the residence and fills Mateo in on the horrible crime that unfolded on the premises. According to Rafael a man named Ricardo (Paul Vega) one day murdered his wife Victoria (Jimena Lindo) and his son Gabriel (Matías Raygada). The case was never solved and the spirits of Victoria and Gabriel now haunt the dwelling. When the spirits claim a second victim in Mónica the faith of the good padre will stand the ultimate test. Will he able to withstand and cast out the evil spirits that dwell in Fundo Lazarte?

The screenplay from director Gonzalo Rodríguez Risco is written well enough but it doesn’t exactly put a spin, new or otherwise, on an old formula. In fact most plot developments are so trite and predictable that even at a very economic 75 minutes We Are Not Alone feels a bit long for its own good. It’s not so much that We Are Not Alone isn’t effective or fails to deliver on what it promises; it’s just that nothing of what it presents is particularly riveting or all that interesting. The writing is tight and perfunctory but it fails to do something, anything, with the ghost movie genre. What little scares there are, are so telegraphed and obvious that it’s far more rewarding to count the clichés and conventions that We Are Not Alone adheres to than whatever apparition or supposedly scary reveal that director Daniel Rodríguez Risco throws at the viewer. Verónica (2017) used a number of well-worn tropes and conventions too, but it at least was intelligent enough to use its tried-and-true ghost movie structure to tell an endearing, and at times compelling, coming-of-age story of an ordinary girl thrown in an extraordinary situation. Plus, it had Sandra Escacena which helped tremendously too. The only thing that We Are Not Alone has in spades is atmosphere, but it’s not nearly enough to make it stand out from the many competitors in the genre. As beautifully filmed as We Are Not Alone tends to be, it has little in the way of a pulse or distinct individual traits.

As any production from a Spanish language country We Are Not Alone lays on the Judeo-Christian rhetoric and symbolism fast and thick. There’s no cliché it doesn’t use as there are inanimate objects that move, scars on the wall that lead to a hidden room and as the haunting intensify Satanic symbols appear. The nominal hero of the piece is not the secular businessman Mateo, but defrocked priest Padre Rafael who has been experiencing a crisis of faith ever since losing his mystic / paranormal investigator father during an exorcism in Fundo Lazarte many years earlier. The featured ghost portrayed by Jimena Lindo is an apparition in the Sadako from Ringu (1998) mold. Over the course of the hauntings Mónica stops eating and sleeping ultimately giving way to a truncated homage to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) in the last fifteen minutes, including the levitating bed. We Are Not Alone liberally borrows from The Amityville Horror (1979), The Exorcist (1973), Poltergeist (1982), and Ringu (1998), to name the most prominent. It’s not that We Are Not Alone is bad because it certainly isn’t. What ultimately becomes its undoing is its slavish adherence to convention and cliché. In earlier decades South/Latin American horror was known for its exuberance and excess. We Are Not Alone has nothing of the sort. It retains the strong Judeo-Christian message that the continent is famous for, and is notoriously homogeneous otherwise.

The cast includes nobody in particular and seems to consist largely of Risco stock company – and respectable domestic television actors/actresses. Marco Zunino is the most recognizable name having played bit parts in beloved, high-profile American TV series Alias (2003) and Castle (2016). Next to Jimena Lindo as the ghost by far the strongest presence is young Zoe Arévalo. Fiorella Díaz holds her own well enough as the constantly imperiled Mónica. Much of a nonentity for the majority of the feature Díaz surprises with the possession and exorcism scenes in the third act but it’s not enough to warrant anything more than a passing recommendation. Nobody acts outright bad and Zunino, Lindo and Arévalo excepted We Are Not Alone has no outstanding performances to speak of. It’s rather emblemic for the production as a whole. Everything is solid and technically sound, but nothing in particular stands out. Peruvian horror has yet to find its footing and voice and while retaining the same cultural sensibilities of decades past We Are Not Alone probably isn’t the best the country has to offer in the genre.

Over the course of 75 minutes We Are Not Alone packs several decades’ worth of ghost – and haunted house movie conventions. The result might not exactly be spine-tingling or chilling, but it’s a professionally helmed and atmospheric little genre exercise when it fires on all cylinders. Far and few as these moments tend to be, when they do appear they more than justify the long wait. It will be interesting to see how Peruvian horror develops from here on and whether We Are Not Alone will retroactively become historically important for the same reasons. There’s no contesting that Gonzalo Rodríguez Risco is a master technician who knows what makes the genre tick. It would be interesting to see him tackle a contemporary giallo murder mystery or an erotic vampire - or witchcraft movie, although both niches seems to have died out. We Are Not Alone might not be as crazy and surreal as any of the classic Latin American genre offerings, but that doesn’t stop it from being very atmospheric and effective. Hopefully Peru will soon be carving out it’s own niche on the international horror cinema map.

Plot: the Portokalos clan is called upon for another Big Fat Greek Wedding

Producing a sequel is always a risky proposition, even under the most optimal of circumstances. Writing a sequel a decade and a half after the original is all the moreso. Not only does the sequel face up against years of built up anticipation and towering expectations from the fanbase, it has to stay faithful to the original and has to interest the audience in the new story it plans on telling. Good sequels in and of themselves are rare enough. Belated sequels capturing the zeitgeist and spirit of the original are far and few. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the surprise rom-com smash hit from 2002. It grossed $241.4 million in North America alone and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It made Nia Vardalos a star overnight and spawned a short-lived TV spin-off called My Big Fat Greek Life (2003). It took Vardalos some 14 years to get a sequel in production. Not that anybody was expecting a sequel in the first place and it's not as if Vardalos has branched out in the interim with the rom-coms My Life In Ruins (2009) and I Hate Valentine’s Day (2009). My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is more of the same and while that’s not necessarily bad, was there really any need for this?

It’s been 14 years since Fotoula “Toula” Portakalos (Nia Vardalos) married Ian Miller (John Corbett). The recession has hit everybody hard and Toula is once again busting tables in Dancing Zorba’s, the family restaurant and gathering place for the entire clan, after the travel agency was forced to close doors. Miller is the dean of the local high school. The two have an adolescent daughter named Paris (Elena Kampouris), a fiercely intelligent and independent young woman tired of her parents’ overbearing attention, who’s college-bound and on the verge of leaving the nest. Paris is slightly irritated that there isn’t a moment where she can escape her parents, either in school or at home. Paris wants nothing more than to build her own life and pursue her own interests. Somehow this all sounds very familiar...

Going through his papers one day Costas or Gus (Michael Constantine) makes a startling discovery. 50 years ago when he and Maria (Lainie Kazan) emigrated to America to evade the war the officiating pastor never signed their marriage license. This prompts Maria to re-evaluate her station in life and sends Gus spiraling into depression. Paris meanwhile has been harboring a crush on Bennett (Alex Wolff). As the Portokalos clan rushes to repair the rusty relationship of Gus and Maria they convince the pair to renew their vows and finally make the marriage official once and for all. It just so happens that Paris’ prom night is happening the same night as her grandparents’ marriage. Who will she chose? Will she chose her family over her boyfriend and will everything in the Portakalos clan be alright?

To say that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is light on plot would be something of an understatement. It does offer a rather interesting change of family dynamics compared to the original. In My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) Toula was the black sheep of her proud traditional Greek family, being 30 and single. The crux of the original was Toula defying the expectations of her Greek family and marrying a “xeno”, an American. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 interestingly sees Vardalos identifying more with the marital difficulties of Gus and Maria than with Paris’ longing for independence. Paris after all is what Toula was in the original. The shift in focus isn’t entirely unexpected or to the movie’s overall detriment. As Toula and Ian grow older they start to resemble Gus and Maria more than they’re likely to admit. A person is the product of his/her upbringing. Daughters become mothers whose daughters rebel against their mothers like their mothers did against theirs. It would have been wonderful to have seen exactly that as the A-plot but instead we get the sometimes comedic and well-intended intervention as the Portakalos clan joins forces to save the marriage of family patriarch and matriarch. Vardalos was always all about feel-good and family and this screenplay of hers is no different.

Vardalos’ script is cluttered to say the least. It was bound to be. It was 14 years since the original and every beloved character has to get their moment. We wouldn't have expected anything else. Over the course of an economic and efficient 90 minutes there's always something happening. There’s always something happening, yet nothing ever happens. Ever. The union of Gus and Maria is never really in question and Paris’ own inner conflict, which you’d imagine to be the pulsing heart of this sequel, is resolved much in the fashion of a syndicated television show. Gus and Maria were one of the great charms of the original, yet My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 would have been better served had it been Paris' story. For some reason, it isn't. It’s rather about Toula and Ian coming to grips with parenthood and the sobering realities of married life, raising a daughter and working a full-time job setting in and shattering the romanticized ideal that the original hinged upon. Much of the humor is still derived from the clan’s cultural identity, their traditions and quirks. To drive the point home Vardalos recycles all of the original’s best gags and throws in a few new ones to boot. The greatest discovery of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is Elena Kampouris. She single-handedly is able to elevate her little subplot to something bigger and important than it really is or ought to be. No doubt Kampouris could be the next big thing if she chooses her project wisely.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) was terribly afraid to introduce any meaningful conflict and Vardalos’ screenplay for the sequel is pretty much cut from the same cloth. The Paris character would’ve been an excellent opportunity to comment on the generation gap between parents and children, how Paris is who Toula was in the original and how children turn into their parents without always realizing or acknowledging it. There is no conflict in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 because the status-quo is never really in question. The screenplay briefly toys with the idea of a person not falling in line with the romanticized American ideal of hetero-normative relations and having children, but it’s discarded almost as soon as it’s introduced. It at least is decent enough to throw a progressive bone in having a Portakalous finally coming out of the closet in front of the family, but Vardalos fails to capitalize on that important moment and it’s handwaved away mere moments later. Paris and her parents never come to a clash and the brief seperation of Gus and Maria only serves to bring them closer together. All's well that ends well. You wouldn’t expect anything else from something produced by Tom Hanks’ Playtone - the company responsible for the ABBA musical Mamma Mia! (2008) and its own belated sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) – and Vardalos. If there’s anything to deduce from Vardalos’ oeuvre it’s her paralyzing fear of conflict.

The biggest bone that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 throws its audience is an appearance by John Stamos. Stamos, of course, is famous for his turn as Greek heartthrob Jesse Katsopolis in Full House (1987-1995) and its reboot Fuller House (2016) – and has been setting female hearts and loins alight for pretty much as long as he’s been acting and producing. His subplot is of no narrative importance and his presence is merely to enhance the star-power and viability of the project. It’s good seeing the entire gang again and all the familiar faces are accounted for. Everybody’s tubbier, a bit more wrinkled but clearly everybody’s having a great time this second time round. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is formulaic, syrupy and saccharine in all the right ways. It will never go down the books as an important movie – or even a particular memorable one. It never aims to be anything but an enjoyable popcorn flick, ideal to spent an evening or kill 90 minutes. Nia Vardalos rightly deserves credit for making this sequel as enjoyable as it is. Unlike many others she isn’t stuck in Hallmark or Lifetime Movies television hell – and that’s certainly an accomplishment considering how she became famous in the first place.

If there’s any reason that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 works as well it does is because it pushes the same buttons and plays on the same sentiments as the original. The original has become enshrined as a rom-com classic and the sequel has no pretensions other than being an expansion on the original. If there are going to be more sequels after this it’s high time for Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan to retire and put the focus on the relation between Paris and her parents Toula and Ian. In fact a third installment, in say five to ten years from now, could focus on Paris getting her own Big Fat Greek Wedding and how she has to deal with her traditional, overbearing parents. It would serve as a good closure to the franchise, having come full circle. There’s certainly no immediate need for a My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 but knowing full well how Hollywood operates there’s always the spectre of possibility looming at the horizon. It will be interesting to see where Nia Vardalos moves from here. The My Big Fat Greek Wedding franchise and brand is her brainchild and we’re interested to see what project she decides to tackle next. Worst case scenario is that in another ten or so years there’ll indeed be a My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3. Now is as good a time as any to stop with these Greek Weddings.