Ecuadorian director Sebasti Cordero’s sophomore effort doesn’t subvert the serial-killer genre but at least preempts dim predictability by revealing
el monstruo‘s identity in its first frames. Save your outrage—nothing’s spoiled here that wasn’t meant to be. This he-dunit spins suspense from a different thematic skein. Oscillating between furor and languor, rage and repose, Crónicas mixes ethnography with media critique, questioning the nature of truth in reportage, the media’s power to effect (and affect) that truth (Alfred Molina’s gloriously glib newsmagazine host would send Tom Cruise into conniptions), and the queasy complicity and mutual fascination between interviewer and subject.
Inspired by a gruesome real-life trio of South American serial killers (among them Luis Alfredo Garavito, who shocked Colombia with the murders of about 140 children), Crónicas follows Miami tabloid TV correspondent Manolo Bonilla (John Leguizamo) and his crew (Leonor Watling and José Mar Yazpik) as they report on one such killer in Babahoyo, Ecuador, failing Journalistic Ethics 101 in the process. (The seductive power of news production is little match, however, for that of Watling’s immersive eyes and Castilian sibilant
S—a lovely contrast to Leguizamo’s Nuyorican-by-way-of-Colombia, mestizo tones.) Leguizamo finds the right mute for his trumpet, modulating his expenditure of emotion to the requirements of the scenario rather than overengaging his capable Mambo Mouth. He’s aided by the film’s strong sense of place; sorrow’s descent on Babahoyo feels as perpetual and all-consuming as the torrents of rain that drench the region, and the town itself—much of it suspended over water on ramshackle bamboo bridges—threatens to collapse from its own psychological detritus.