The Exterminating Angel (El angel exterminador)

The Exterminating Angel

Only a miracle will get us out.

Wow, they removed a Luis Bunuel film from the list? That’s something. Oh wait; they did it just to add another one of his films instead? Yaaaaay. As much as it thrills me to partake in a Bunuel film, it thrills me even more to know that I have only a couple left on the list after today’s. In fact, the only other two I have left are the two films of his directly preceding this new addition, so this will be a good bellwether for my remaining Bunuel. That being said, the premise of this one definitely struck me as interesting. Added to that that this seems to be of the same filmmaking era and style for Bunuel as Los Olvidados, pretty much the only Bunuel film I can say I legitimately liked, and my apprehensions about this one were ebbed, if only slightly. Having now seen it, I can say that this is probably the best film that Bunuel could’ve made with such a premise, but that it is still restricted from true greatness by the fact that it is Bunuel who is behind the picture.

If you’re wondering about the title, don’t; even Bunuel has made mention that it is basically nonsensical. Instead, let’s see what we have for our plot. A group of well-to-do aristocrats meet at the manor of their host for an evening party. Pretty much as soon as they arrive, however, weird things begin happening; the servants inexplicably leave the mansion (save for one butler), and instead of going home in the morning, the guests all remove their coats and sleep in the central guest room, as if everyone is unwilling to leave the room. By morning, exactly that is made apparent; no one is able to leave the room for some unaccountable reason, and even the remaining butler, upon entering the space to bring the guests morning coffee, becomes psychologically trapped along with them. From here, the film is an exploration of both the extreme survival tactics of the guests (anyone who’s seen Frank Darabont’s The Mist will be able to relate to this one easily), as well as how these supposedly sophisticated and well-bred people devolve into the same primal animals as the rest of us when faced with such an odd and extreme circumstance. Awesome premise, I can’t deny that, but how well does Bunuel do with it? Turns out, not that badly. The reactions of the individual guests, upon realizing their mysterious plight, are as varied as they are naturalistic; we can relate to the people and their reactions because we can see ourselves having similar or almost the same reactions if we were in said situation, and from there the plot of the film goes along the same course as it likely would in real life, but it’s the almost sci-fi-ish premise that keeps this from being purely neorealistic. Still, Bunuel still seems unable to resist including some surrealist aspects in the film. Near the end, there’s a montage of completely random elements like clouds and saws sawing away at various things, that seemed to serve no purpose. Also, just like Los Olvidados, what is with Luis Bunuel and birds? Near the beginning, one of the women of the party opens her purse for a handkerchief, and there is a dead bird of some kind inside for some random reason. It’s rather gratuitous, and I kept waiting for some sort of explanation to arise later in the film, or some other metaphor to tie it into the rest of the picture, but aside from a religious guest using the claws in some sort of ritual in an attempt to free everyone from the room, there was nothing.

This wasn’t really a surprise addition to the list; even I knew about it prior to its inclusion, so if the list were to add any Bunuel it would certainly be this one. Even so, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one, but there was also a nagging feeling that, if the premise had been given to a different director, it might’ve been served that much better. But, it wasn’t, so I’m left with what this gave me, which for a Bunuel film was more than I expected. For those expecting a straightforward construction of the premise, you obviously do not know Bunuel. No explanation is given for why the guests are trapped in the room, and for Bunuel (and us), none is needed; it’s not the mystery of why they can’t leave, but what becomes of them when they find out they can’t leave that is the real entertainment value here. This may not be my favorite Bunuel, but it was a far cry from my least favorite, and for Bunuel, that is definitely a win in my book.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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