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99.9

Spain’s Augustin Villaronga, writer/director of the nihilistic classic IN A GLASS CAGE, has a way with disturbing imagery, and puts that flair to good use in a fairly traditional, though still mighty distinctive, tale of supernatural horror.

The Package
     1997’s 99.9 (not to be confused with Thai flick 999-9999) is a stellar entry in the recent Spanish horror movie renaissance (whose ranks include films like THESIS, THE NAMELESS and FAUSTO 5.0), even though its director Augustin Villaronga has been around since 1983, the year of his unforgettable debut IN A GLASS CAGE.  He’s also made the mystical fantasy MOONCHILD and the violent war drama EL MAR.  99.9 seems downright subdued in such company, but don’t be fooled: it’s a CREEPY film with a number of nasty moments.
     Regarding the film’s U.S. distribution, it was all-but nonexistent (there were plans for a U.S. release in 1998, which evidently fell through) until Urban Vision’s ‘04 NTSC DVD release, a poorly mastered affair with non-removable English subtitles.  While the DVD is certainly preferable to the bootleg videos that were for a time the only way to see this movie, I think it deserves better. 

The Story 
     Lara is the host of 99.9, an occult-oriented radio talk show.  She learns one day that Victor, her estranged lover, has been found dead in a small backwoods village under mysterious circumstances.  Shortly thereafter Lara receives a video tape from an anonymous source that fills her in on her lover’s activities in the days before he died, during which he conducted freaky experiments in an attempt to contact the dead.
     Lara travels to the village where Victor met his death, and finds a largely apathetic populace.  She soldiers on, however, making a point of staying in the same hotel Victor did.  The place, it turns out, is run by a creepy dude who in his spare time makes weird sculptures out of the hair of his guests and who apparently had an affair with Ramon during his last days.  Lara also meets a woman interned in an insane asylum who owns the house where Victor breathed his last--the place, the woman claims, is haunted by the spirits of people who’ve died inside, and whose faces have been subsequently imprinted in the walls.  Apparently the woman’s daughter runs the house together with her sadistic husband, who throws Lara off the premises when she tries to investigate.
     One night, however, the woman who owns the house in question busts out of the asylum and leaves a note for Lara imploring her to meet her at the “house with the faces”.  This Lara does, to confront the woman, her daughter, and the explanation of her lover’s killing...and it’s not pretty!

The Direction
     This film is atmospheric to a fault, with an aura of brooding mystery equal to the best work of Pupi Avati (in particular THE HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHING WINDOWS and ZEDER).  That’s not to say that it’s in any way a “quiet” horror movie; on the contrary, 99.9 contains some profoundly disquieting scenes of violence, including a nasty shovel whacking and documentary footage of animals being slaughtered that adequately demonstrate the filmmaker’s unrivalled flair for cinematic psychosis.  It helps, of course, that Villaronga is an unusually skilled craftsman who creates extremely vivid and affecting images that tend to stick in the viewer’s mind (whether he/she likes it or not!).
     If Villaronga were as secure in crafting a narrative, then this film would be an all-time classic...but alas, he’s not.  Or at least, not here; Villaronga’s self-penned films IN A GLASS CAGE and EL MAR boasted tightly constructed storylines, but he developed 99.9 from a pre-existing script that admittedly didn’t engage him fully.  The mystery at the film’s center leaves much to be desired: the nature of the explanation (if not the precise methodology) is revealed early on, meaning the many red herrings the heroine subsequently confronts (i.e. the question of whether the hotel proprietor shot her lover or not) are ultimately pointless distractions in a film that could easily stand to lose 10 to 15 of its 106 minutes.


Vital Statistics 

99.9
Sogepaq 

Director: Augustin Villaronga
Producer: Antonio Cardehal
Screenplay: Augustin Villaronga, Jesus Regueira, Lourdes Iglesias
Cinematography: Javier Aguirresarobe
Editing: Pablo Blanco
Cast: Maria Barranco, Terele Pavez, Angel de Andres Lopez, Ruth Gabriel, Gustavo Salmeron, Juan Marquez, Simon Andreu, Pedro Mari Sánchez, Miguel Picazo, Maite Brik, Jordi Canals, Paula Soldevila, Francisco Maestre, Alicia Agut, Luisa Gavasa
 


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