Written and directed by Jorge Riquelme Serrano in his first feature film, Chameleon is a tense psychological thriller that doesn’t hold back. Sharing many similarities with Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, we see the arrival of an unexpected guest who comes bearing gifts after last nights party. Paula and Paulina’s plans of having an intimate day together are put into disarray and they soon find themselves having to converse with a stranger they barely know. All is not what it seems however as things begin to take a turn for the worse when what looked like an innocent arrival quickly turns into something much more sinister.
Shot in a mere four days on a limited budget, Chameleon has a brutally, realistic feel to proceedings, thanks to the structured improvisation that Serrano has been able to establish on set. With all the actors maintaining their real names, it’s clear to see that Serrano is more interested in establishing the social and political themes of his film rather than character backstories and exposition. With racism, prejudice and class divide all rearing their ugly head, we’re able to see how Gaston - the unexpected guest, is an outsider when it comes to Paulina’s social background. Condescending and demanding, Paulina is living the life of luxury in her (upper) middle-class home where her lopsided relationship with Paula is starting to slowly break at the seams.
After a few glasses of wine, courtesy of Gaston, we then begin to witness some cold truths from Paula’s point of view as she becomes more and more irritated by her lover's selfish behavior. Having become intoxicated and needing to rest, Gaston’s charming facade slowly starts to unravel as his sadistic impulses begin to surface. For a first feature film, Serrano has orchestrated a brutally effective thriller that pulls no punches. Inspired by real-life home invasions that have tainted his own country, the Chilean director has crafted a movie that will no doubt offend due to the savagery on screen, however, there’s always meaning behind the malice that is depicted.
Gaston Salgado is able to effectively portray an unhinged individual to spine-tingling effect and although his motives may not be entirely clear, we’re able to find out enough to make our own assumptions as to why he commits such heinous crimes. In what can only be described as one of the most memorable performances of the year, Salgado is able to produce a variety of emotions through the sheer force of his gaze. Whether it’s his initial innocuous look at the beginning of the film or his piercing glare towards the end, Salgado’s eyes alone are able to chew up the scenery.
Overall, Chameleon is a horrifying experience which will stick with you long after the end credits. Minimalist in its approach and gut-punchingly raw in its delivery, Serrano has made a bold debut feature film which is soaked in social commentary. With great performances and a running time that clocks in at 81 minutes, there’s nothing wasted in this well-paced psychological thriller.
CHAMELEON (aka CAMALEÓN) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JORGE RIQUELME SERRANO / STARRING: GASTÓN SALGADO, ALEJANDRO GOIC, PAULINA URRUTIA, PAULA ZUNIGA / RELEASE: OUT NOW (VOD), FEBRUARY 5TH (DVD)