Jaume Balagueró's entry into the 6 Films to Keep You Awake collection, To Let (Para entrar a vivir), is quite basic in premise, and clocking in at a measly 68 minutes, there is very little time to get all that complicated. The film follows Mario (Adrià Collado) and Clara (Macarena Gómez), a couple who, without much luck, have been searching high and low for a new apartment. With a child on the way Mario and Clara need something a little bigger, something befitting a new family, and Mario thinks he may have found the perfect place for the perfect price.
We first meet the couple as they are driving to their potential new home. It's quite the hike to actually get there, and when they finally do, it's a little less than what was expected. The building is located in a rundown and nearly vacant neighborhood - one that looks like a great place for meth use and dead body storage, as opposed to PTA meetings and soccer practice. With dwindling hopes that the interior may outweigh the exterior, they check out the pad anyways, but as luck would, or would not, have it, the place is rundown and near unlivable. They quickly decide that this will not be the right place for them to start a family and set to go on their merry way. Unfortunately for Mario and and Clara, the landlady (Nuria González) thinks otherwise and the couple find themselves trapped in the apartment building - an apartment building run by a madwoman.
To Let starts off with a bang and, as I mentioned, it's a very short movie, so it hits hard and fast (like yer maahm does), getting right into the meat and taters (again, like yer maahm does), completely skipping the appetizer altogether. The viewer is introduced to Mario and Clara and, with minimal, straight to the point back-story under the film's belt, it puts them almost immediately in danger as they are trapped in the apartment building against their will. This opening works great and shows some real promise as it caught me off guard with how quickly and unexpectedly things went down South for the protagonists.
On top of the balls-to-the-wall start, To Let has a gorgeous location; the aesthetic of the grimy and muted, graffiti ridden neighborhood looks fantastic. It feels almost like a European version of '80s/'70s New York with this gray and dead demeanor, which is only added to by the downpour of rain enveloping the already grim surroundings. That appealing appearance carries right over into the apartments building's rusty and dusty interior, with chipped paint, curled up wallpaper and cockroaches abound. If anything were to standout outside of the location and set design, To Let is also magnificently shot and edited. Pablo Rosso's cinematography is impressive to say the least, and all of these aspects I have gone over in this review thus far had me thinking I was in for a fantastic ride.
In what could easily be described as style over substance, To Let unfortunately falls flatter with far more than a simple lack of substance, and the longer the short film runs, the worse things get. I was pretty high and mighty for much of the first half but, as To Let went on, I found my enjoyment of it starting to dwindle to the point of complete dislike. Mario and Clara are trapped in an apartment building by this mad landlady who is obsessed with keeping her grotesque complex filled with unwilling tenants. She thinks what she is doing is okay, but she is clearly delusional as she acts out landlord/tenant situations with tenants that are bound and gagged.
I'm okay with the familiar concept, and I'm okay with the basic premise, but when things began to get ridiculous I started to check out, no matter how nice looking the movie is. I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, but to think that a middle aged, scrawny lady has the ability to keep captive and one up all of the couples that she has, is simply moronic. There is a scene where Mario has the chance to whack her right on the back of the head, but he hesitates for the slightest second, which is just enough time for her go on the offensive and overpower this fully grown man. Even when she is knocked down and nearly out at one point, the couple run away from her, squandering a chance to stop her for good, or at least incapacitate her so she is no longer a threat.
There is a point in To Let where I just started to get pissed off, and it's at that point where every little lame thing began to stick out and force me to shake my head in disbelief (especially the dream within a dream, within a dream sequence). For a film to come out swinging with it's head clearly in the game, only to suddenly lose focus and stagger away from what it started is a major disappointment. You have a slightly corny but serviceable idea that is introduced properly then executed poorly, which is very unfortunate with how incredibly attractive the package is on the outside. If things were just kept simple and remotely believable, this could have been a serious contender; yet all that is left is a pile of steaming substance in an un-flushed TOiLET.