By David Dent
Here’s a stylized and very clever Argentinian murder romp which may have been slightly out of place in a horror movie festival but sure was a lot of fun to spend time with.
Punto Muerto is the story of two writers and a critic who meet on a train headed to a book launch, and specifically the war of egos between those who write and those that are paid to tell others what they think. One of these writers is Luis Peñafiel, who claims in his latest unpublished novel, featuring a detective character dubbed ‘the Napoleon of Crime,’ to have solved the perennial crime plot headscratcher: the murder in a room where the murderer had no way of getting in or out. The second member of the party is a young author, Gregori Lupus, who is in awe of the crime master. And finally, there is the critic Edgar Dupuin, Peñafiel’s nemesis.
Once at the hotel the critic goads the writer until Peñafiel hands the proof over, convinced it’s his masterwork. The critic pronounces the book a dud, and a violent drunken quarrel ensues wherein Peñafiel threatens to rewrite the novel. When the author wakes up the next morning, the critic lies dead inside his room, the method of murder rather similar to details in Peñafiel’s novel: and the chamber is sealed with no possibility of the killer has been able to get in and out.
Peñafiel and his young disciple set out to solve the mystery of the closed room before anyone else discovers the crime.
And that’s the setup for Daniel de Vega’s latest movie, a feature which has something of the feel of those Andrew Leman Lovecraft adaptations of a few years ago, with titles like The Call of Cthulhu (2005): slightly weird, slightly camp but very entertaining. Shot in haunting black and white, director of photography Alejandro Giuliani and production designer Cecilia Castro ensure opulence on a budget, with the train and hotel set looking far grander than the budget would suggest.
But it’s the ingenious storytelling that makes this one stand out. The denouement, where all the loose ends are tied up, is easy as satisfying as any Poirot or Miss Marple mystery. Very funny tightly plotted, and a fantastic muse on the art of fiction writing and the cult of the author.