We’re a culture obsessed with hypothetical questioning and considering the alternatives. We always consider the what-ifs in life, to the point where we have cinematic multiverses full of superheroes, hot dog fingers, Franka Potente’s actions or lack thereof, and the implications of Gweneth Paltrow not making a train. David Victori’s latest film, Cross the Line (No Matrás), is less about the decisions not made and more about the hell you can find yourself stuck in after making one wrong choice, basing its story in a reality where we can’t hit the undo button.
Mario Casas plays meek homebody Dani whose content with a life of taking care of his ailing father. After his father passes away, Dani is unsure of what’s next. His personality allows him to be stepped all over at his job as a travel agent who dreams of journeying to far-off places but has never had the means. His lawyer sister, Laura (Elisabeth Larena), recognizing the sacrifice he’s made by caring for their father, gifts Dani a pass to travel around the world and encourages him not to be so scared of any adventure that follows.
With his eyes open to new possibilities, Dani is approached by Mila (Milena Smit) in the bar where he’s eating dinner. Playing the damsel in distress card, Mila asks if Dani will pay for her dinner after being stood up. The situation produces blatant concern from anyone watching, with Mila’s more laid-back appearance to Dani’s uptight button-down drawing the obvious comparison. Anyone knowledgeable can see Dani for an easy mark.
I have to give Cross the Line a lot of credit for making me love and hate the situation. The setup felt a lot like the adult thrillers of Adrian Lyne in the ’80s and ’90s, having me half consider the noirish concept that Mila may just disappear on Dani after a night of passion, turning up dead to begin the second act. The film’s dark nature firmly places the film in the neo-noir category, while the neon lighting throughout the film only adds to the atmosphere. However, the situation bothered me because it’s overly apparent that Mila’s interest in Dani is anything but manipulative. Any film that can elicit an emotional response, good or bad, deserves some kudos. Victori and other writers, Jordi Vallejo and Clara Viola, ease the viewer into the film with this charmingly shy individual, bound to the life-on-hold prison of caretaking for his father. As things begin looking up for him, the other shoe drops.
Mila brings Dani back to her place, where things go bad in a hurry. Dani finds he’s merely a pawn in a scheme for Mila to get back at her abusive and adulterous boyfriend, Ray (Fernando Valdivielso). Dani finds himself on the boot side of an ass-whooping, quickly finding that his options are to kill or be killed. With the audience completely hooked, Mila seals Dani’s fate by making these already incredible circumstances truly impossible.
Having to stealthily navigate every moment of his escape from this point forward, I can say I was on the edge of my seat. The music had picked up, and my heart was beating with the timed rhythm and Casa’s consistent panting as Dani felt his newfound freedom being traded for an actual cell. I wish I could say that the film continued pouring on the panic, but Cross the Line has a bit of a problem with patience. Victori keeps trying to up the ante by not letting the non-stop adrenaline rush of these scenes go, encouraging this endless night of chaos to keep pushing the envelope one step further, and the results are mixed.
After getting the relief of inside police information from his sister, Dani attempts to expunge a final piece of evidence that links him to Mila. As a result, this lands him in a whole new mess of chaotic trouble. This is where the film shifted for me. I understand that, just like the schoolteacher in Wake in Fright, Dani is panicked and paranoid beyond all logic or reason, throwing away his persona as a clean-cut character out of fear for the alternative. There’s just something unrealistically tedious about how Cross the Line arrives at this place. At one point, I found myself comparing the film to the ’90s thriller Judgement Night, but without the appeal of a mob. Then it kind of went there.
I think it’s the immediacy of the film wanting to feel like a ninety-minute cardio session that makes it difficult to believe. Victori’s attempt to have the adrenaline rush persist just makes it the norm, and the pacing causes Dani’s decision-making to become a little absurd and causes me to want to yell at the character.
This night starts feeling a lot longer than most I’ve experienced, and I think if any had been filled with tattoos, alcohol, sex, and corpses, it would probably have been over a lot sooner. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy the powerful metaphor that the evening refuses to end while Dani’s character is in question, an ominous limbo of morality shrouded in the darkness of night. The more unwieldy the evening becomes, the less resonating the lesson. Ultimately, Cross the Line emphasizes self-protection over conscience, showing our animalistic sides ending on a pseudo-ambiguous note, left to be assumed by Dani’s degrading actions of the evening.
Cross the Line’s second half may go a little too far, but that doesn’t undo some breathtaking sequences, great acting from Casas and Smit, a pulse-pounding score, and beautiful colorization. Overall, the film is exciting, but it does hit an excessive snowball point that, in my opinion, overdoes the immoral narrative and character degeneration. Cross the Line is a mostly nerve-shattering experience. People will love it for the non-stop rollercoaster experience, while others will roll their eyes and forgo some realism to enjoy it.
Cross the Line is playing as a part of Grimmfest Easter. Virtual passes are still available, allowing access to this and other titles through April 18th. The film is currently available to stream in the US on HBOMax.