Returning home after a long absence will always be dramatic—it’s no surprise many movies portray this life event in all its glorious trials and tribulations. What used to be familiar to a person, becomes strange. Isolation reigns. Old and new demons breed chaos. Dynamics shift. New familial ties form or, on the contrary, old ones forever sever. One thing is for sure: nothing remains the same.
However, what happens when events shift a narrative, but the main character more or less remains the same? Is that a failure on the creator’s part? Or is this more a matter of “art imitates life” kind of thing, where despite everything, sometimes in real life people don’t change? Adel L. Morales’ new film Release tries to explore the consequences of estrangement and the sensitive and challenging nature of re-entry, but due to a dubious narrative choice, ultimately falls short to decisively portray the nuances of family trauma.
Note: Spoilers ahead.
Ricky “Maverick” (played by Ian Paola) returns home after a 21-year prison sentence. His crime isn’t all too clear, but it definitely involves drugs. Terse and prone to erratic and violent behavior, Maverick clearly has a hard time reintegrating into his home and feeling comfortable around his family, as evidenced by a simple dinner that turns into a confrontation that forces him to retrieve.
The introduction of 18-year-old Ellie (played by a fantastic Priscilla Star Diaz) makes it clear that she’s curious and decisive. She comes back home from work late at night and sees her father, who’s pretending to be asleep on the couch. Ellie is curious and makes all the effort to take a peek at his face; after all, she hasn’t seen him in a very long time.
Not everything is what it seems. The following day, father and daughter finally meet face-to-face and it’s not like most reunions. There’s no tears. Ellie feels out the energy and decides that she’s as comfortable as can be. In his own way, Ricky feels the same way, even if he still seems his gruff self.
Ellie’s character comes across as dependent and needing of affection from a father figure, but her desire for one crosses the line. She initiates an unhealthy physical attachment to her father and it slowly unravels to a point of no return.
Instantly the film makes it clear that it’s heading into a very taboo subject: incest. Morales grabs it by the horns and runs with it without ever looking back. But beneath the obvious provocative topic at hand, the film’s crux is a family’s inability to heal and the extreme shame attached to one’s own sins.
Ricky seems to have some sense when he urges his daughter that what they’re doing is wrong. But as soon as Ellie is on the same page, he does a 180 and is the one who tells her that they continue the very thing that is rotting them inside. He struggles to get rid of his shame, but how can you root for him when he’s actively participating to destroy his life and those of others?
Why if he was actively trying to stop and not indulge in a sexual relationship with his daughter did he change his mind and start to advocate for it and making it sound like his feelings —their feelings— were normal? Why the sudden change?
It all points to an unrequited love. He tries to rekindle the loving relationship he once had with his ex-wife and Ellie’s mother (Caridad De La Luz), but after she rejects him, he succumbs to his darkest desires. This happens rather quickly and does a disservice to the narrative. By reducing the high stakes drama to a simple romantic disconnection, it makes you wonder if the entire story only centers around adding shock value for the sake of it without really trying to analyze the complex subjects the film brings up.
Despite having the potential to render a rich exploration of love, desire, and shame, ultimately Release misses the opportunity to really delve into the at times illogical and even senseless nature of a broken male psyche.
Luis Luna is Latino Rebels’ arts writer and associate producer of Latino Rebels Radio. He tweets from @luarmanyc.
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