Rock, Paper and Scissors starts off beguilingly odd, but fails to ever realize its genre potency and soon falls into wheel-spinning.
There’s something very wrong with Maria Jose (Valeria Giorcelli) and her younger brother Jesus (Pablo Sigal). Living a hermetic existence in the dilapidated home of their recently deceased father, the pair lounge around watching The Wizard of Oz on a loop, ignoring phone calls and playing games of rock, paper, scissors to decide who has to answer the door. Interrupting this odd, off-putting reverie is their older half-sister Magdalena (Agustina Cerviño), who’s arrived from Spain to help them get their father’s affairs in order and claim her portion of the inheritance. The trio of siblings haven’t been together in years, for reasons that become clearer as the film progresses, and their conversations are awkward and stilted. It’s obvious that Magdalena doesn’t really want to be there, and Maria Jose acts as if she hasn’t communicated with another human being for quite some time. There’s a pronounced undercurrent of passive aggressive animosity, as Maria Jose and Jesus detail caring for their father following a failed suicide attempt that left him an invalid, and Magdalena apologizes for never coming to visit or assisting in the caretaking. After spending an uncomfortable night in the house, Magdalena attempts to take her leave from her siblings the next morning. Shockingly, Magdalena suddenly falls down the home’s grand staircase and awakes in a horrible predicament — hooked up to the same medical equipment used to care for their father, unable to move due to her injuries, with no cell phone and no means of communication with the outside world. She’s now Maria Jose’s patient, but once she accuses Maria Jose of purposefully pushing her down the stairs, it becomes obvious that she’s really a prisoner.
Co-directors Martin Blousson and Macarena Garcia Lenzi create a palpable sense of unease from this bizarre scenario; Maria Jose seems to relish playing nurse just a little too much, while Jesus tries to reassure Magdalena that she’ll be free to leave as soon as her wounds heal. But, as Maria Jose becomes increasingly unhinged, Magdalena begins trying to ingratiate herself to Jesus in an effort to turn the two against each other. The problem is, Jesus turns out to be just as unstable as Maria Jose, and it becomes less clear who is manipulating who. Like the titular game, the narrative begins bouncing back and forth, with Magdalena constantly trying to suss out which of the two might be the most sympathetic to her plight at any given moment. This all works, for a while, but gradually Rock, Paper and Scissors, like its namesake, starts spinning its wheels, repeatedly treading the same ground to diminishing effect. The filmmakers never really ratchet up the tension, either, instead settling on the merely odd and leaning into camp, a la Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Jesus fancies himself a filmmaker, and the brief glimpses of his chintzy, low-fi home movie play like an 8-bit digital reimagining of Alice in Wonderland. Meanwhile, Blousson and Lenzi really lay on the Wizard of Oz iconography with a trowel, constantly inserting closeups of shoes and characters muttering variations of “There’s no place like home.” Even with a brief 80-minute runtime, the film starts to feel padded; nothing here approaches actual psychological realism, nor does it ever quite go the full Grand Guignol either. This is all mood and atmosphere dissipating into a shrug of a denouement, shying away from extreme violence and only hinting at the psycho-sexual possibilities inherent in such a hot-house environment. Sometimes genre films are accused of going too far; Rock, Paper and Scissors doesn’t go far enough.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | July 2021.