Imagine for a second a looping staircase. Reach the top, and you're at the bottom. Reach the bottom and you're at the top. Then imagine being here for 35 years.
This vision of banal purgatory is the basis of The Incident. A 2014 science fiction thriller from Mexican director Isaac Ezban, The Incident is a Twilight Zone-esque concept expanded into an engaging, sometimes disgusting feature film. Despite very big and thoughtful ideas about existence, The Incident sadly nose dives when it comes to providing answers to its inciting incident. But like a family road trip, the destination matters less than the journey. And The Incident is one hell of a journey, one that you ought to stream before it leaves Netflix on August 19.
The Incident follows two separate stories: In one, small-time crook Carlos (Humberto Busto) and his brother Oliver (Fernando Alvarez Rebeil) attempt to escape arrest from rogue cop Marco (Raúl Méndez) in a building stairway. In the other, a family of four embark on a day-long road trip.
As the film's title implies, there's always an inciting "incident" that causes panic. For the cops and robbers: Marco shoots Carlos in the leg, causing him to bleed out slowly. For the family: a forgotten inhaler becomes a matter of life and death following a lethal allergic reaction. These ticking time bombs — made literal by the sound of an off-screen explosion — create desperation, tension, and despair as the characters discover the extent of their inescapable prisons.
The Incident is a high-concept thriller that works best when you take its ideas on the surface. There is no plot to speak of. The characters are trapped, and there's nothing in the way of escape. Thus, The Incident becomes a character story, about the willpower individuals who discover their own ways of making sense and cope with their surroundings. Some make it out better than others.
These "endless prisons" — a never-ending staircase, a looping highway road — magically replenish vending machines and abandoned gas stations, allowing the trapped to just barely live with a modicum of comfort and convenience. But as time goes on, hours become days, days become years, and things get gross. Prepare to watch The Incident between the spaces of your fingers.
Ultimately The Incident is about EMOTIONAL PRISONS, which makes it a rather fitting but difficult movie to watch in quarantine. Like the characters in the film, we are likely dwelling on important moments, both good and bad, that defined our lives. With so many aspects of daily life put on pause, we can't help but think about where things went wrong — or maybe even where things went right.
Because The Incident has an incomprehensible ending, we have a spoiler-filled explanation below.
The ending of The Incident
The Incident's big premise, revealed in a confusing moment late in the movie, is that older people are incapable of accepting life's problems than younger people. That's... an idea, certainly. The Incident illustrates this by trapping people, young and old, at crucial moments in their lives where fates cross.
For the cops and robbers, their lives changed when they met in Marco's arrest of Oliver and his brother. For the family, their lives changed on a big road trip.
Nothing in the looping dimensions are real. The "people" who find themselves trapped are manifestations of their emotions — think of them as "spiritual ghosts" — constantly living and reliving the time and space that defined the rest of their lives.
There is a "chain" of positivity (for the young) and negativity (for the old). Out of these fateful moments, young people grow up to have a fruitful, rewarding life, while the old wither away in misery and misfortune. The chain continues when the young become old, and experience their own misery and misfortune after a fulfilling youth.
The Incident reveals that young Daniel (Gabriel Santoyo) in the family road trip grows up to become adult Marco. (How a kid named Daniel who loves magic tricks becomes a cop named Marco is not something The Incident is worried about answering in any way that makes sense.) Roberto (Hernán Mendoza), Daniel's stepfather who drives Daniel's mom and sister on that road trip, himself experienced a life-changing moment in his own youth. As a boy, Roberto rode a bamboo raft while on a school trip. The experience changed him, and Roberto's own spiritual self was trapped on that raft in an endless sea for decades.
In real life, Roberto made it back to shore safely and grew up normally, eventually being with Daniel's mother. Because his fate crosses with Daniel, their road trip becomes another loop. In real life, Roberto begins to experience misfortune (divorce from Daniel's mother, alcoholism, bar fights, rejected by prostitutes) while Daniel grows up to have friends, academic success, a true love, a loving family of his own. But the loop continues. When Daniel becomes Marco the cop, his fate crosses with Oliver. After the arrest, Daniel/Marco loses his way. He discovers his wife cheating on him, commits murder, and is sentenced to prison where he grows old and dies.
What the film doesn't show is what happens in the next loop. We learn that Oliver becomes Karl, a bellhop in a hotel who traps newly-weds in a hotel. We can only assume that Oliver/Karl (now played by Hector Mendoza) will now experience misfortune in his life while the bride (Luciana Villegas and Magda Brugengheim) will experience happiness before trapping/looping with someone else.
The Incident is streaming now on Netflix until August 19.