I said I don’t trust you, but—
It’s 2037 and the world looks similar to ours but for certain societal changes. The main alteration at the center of Elias Plagianos‘ Sombra City is the legality of murder if done with a bounty hunting purpose. Think a duel, but farmed out to trained assassins. As long as you’re licensed, hired by a third party with just cause, and provide the potential victim with enough clarity to mount a chance at self-defense before engaging within a private setting (and therefore making it so no witnesses could corroborate whether you’ve made good on that promise or not), the act can proceed without threat of retribution (unless you become the target of someone else’s ire). This is Ellis’ (Josh Burrow) job and it’s why he’s come back.
Plagianos shows us the past through quick moments of love and betrayal between Ellis and Ariadne (Mariela Garriga). It’s a relationship we can infer was ruined by his occupation—the secretive nature of his recently de-criminalized activities sowing seeds of mistrust. She wanted to know where he kept going to assuage her assumptions and for some reason he didn’t trust her enough to say. All we know is that their warmth turned sour with a gun as catalyst, their decision to go their separate ways ancient history until Ellis serendipitously arrives to murder Ariadne’s husband. Will she try and stop him? Or will the fire that once burned return to give the pair a reason to rekindle their romance once Richard (Sebastian Doggart) is out of the picture?
The visuals are simple and yet stunningly unique having been shot on location in Havana, Cuba. There’s a sense of time passed without any futuristic augmentation feigning progress. Instead we get overgrown buildings and graffiti-filled walls to reveal Sombra City as having been left untouched and perhaps forgotten. This is therefore a world apart from the mainland—one that authentically harbors men like Richard without the threat of pushback except from hired guns like Ellis. So don’t expect robots or electrical wizardry since technological advancement has nothing on political or philosophical transformation. Plagianos is supplying his characters a high-concept situation in which they can have their complicated reunion devoid of outlaw connotations. Their love isn’t therefore tainted by the looming violence as much as it’s made more complex.
As a result we’re able to delve into the dynamic at-hand without being bogged down by environmental conditions. Without any bells and whistles to distract, we can focus on Ellis and Ariadne’s current dance. Who has the upper hand? Who has forgiven the other for what happened before and who still harbors that pain? It’s a display of sensuality without a kiss; a chess game for power to get the other off-guard enough for what’s coming. You probably won’t be surprised by where things ultimately go, but that’s less a critique than admission that it doesn’t matter. The film is about their past and presents being connected and yet unsentimentally so. It’s about a harsh world wherein love doesn’t have to prevent us from doing what we must.