May 20, 2024

Down the Rabbit Hole 2024 Movie Review

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Down the Rabbit Hole 2024 Movie Review

Tochtli (Miguel Valverde) has exquisitely refined tastes. He sits in a room with an elegant display of hats flanked by a strange display of desert taxidermy – leaping hares and cacti and all that. He selects a burgundy velvet tri-cornered hat, dons a jacket with ornate epaulets, grabs the reins of his pet pony and walks through his sprawling, plush, one-of-a-kind home. It’s his birthday; he seems to be about 10 years old, and please forgive me for possibly not catching that specific detail, since his ornate surroundings are rather overwhelming. He sits down for a meal and gifts arranged by his father, Yolcaut (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), although Yolcaut doesn’t really arrange things, he just tells other people what to do, e.g., his legion of cowboy-hatted tough-guy toadies and his loving, aging housekeeper, Itzpapalotl (Mercedes Hernandez).

What’s the best way to describe Tochtli’s life? As if it was curated by Salvador Dali and Howard Hughes? Yeah, maybe. He never leaves this palace, which sits somewhere in a remote area of Mexico, and since the story is told wholly from his point of view, and he has little context for his existence, we never quite get a handle on where exactly this takes place, and how big this house is, or what year it is – a few visual cues lead us to assume it’s sometime in the 1990s – and one can’t help but wonder what exactly Yolcaut does for a living that affords such luxury. Tochtli is spoiled and sheltered and intelligent. The only mention of his mother is that he doesn’t have one, and he doesn’t seem to understand the importance of having one, although he probably will eventually. Anyway: It’s his birthday, and what he wants more than anything is an African pygmy hippo to add to his private zoo, which features zebras, monkeys, jaguars, tigers and probably more that we don’t see. He doesn’t get the hippo, though. He has to settle for a rare, endangered bird. He’s disappointed. I’m sure we all can relate.

The mystery of Yolcaut’s wealth isn’t a mystery for long. We understand it, but Tochtli doesn’t. It’s apparently quite normal for his father to sit at a table counting stacks and stacks and stacks of cash, quizzing Tochtli about whether a gunshot to a certain body part will kill a person or just put them in the ICU. The governor comes over for dinner, and all but screaming from the subtext of his conversation with Yolcaut is an assertion of who has more power around these parts, and it sure as hell isn’t the official official. We catch a glimpse of a news report that labels Yolcaut as the head of the Sinaloa drug cartel (note: this is the real-life cartel once led by El Chapo), so there’s your answer, fishbulb. Tochtli has a private tutor named Mazatzin (Raul Briones), a kind-eyed, kind-hearted soul who made a moral compromise somewhere down the line in order to be the highest-paid teacher in all of Mexico. Mazatzin nourishes the boy’s intellect and surely treads on thin ice around here since he has such intimate access to Yolcaut’s most cherished possession; everyone sits down for breakfast, and as Yolcaut rails against “sissies,” Mazatzin insists it’s OK to be “a sissy.” Veiled threats ensue. Meanwhile, all Tochtli can do is bring up his desire to own an African pygmy hippo at every opportunity.

We soon witness Tochtli witnessing things he shouldn’t witness, like a man being tortured in one of his home’s many living rooms (isn’t there a better place around here to torture a man?). He wanders into a secret building full of guns and picks out a snub-nosed revolver and puts it in his pocket. Yolcaut says “they” told him he needs “a vacation,” so they get fake passports with fake names and fly to Namibia for a while. It seems Yolcaut’s “needs” are dovetailing nicely with Tochtli’s “need” to add a hippo to his collection of animals. They go on safari and see elephants and giraffes and leaping antelope and wild dogs. Eventually, they will find some pygmy hippos, because Yolcaut’s mantra, which he makes his son repeat, is “Yolcaut always can.” And you can’t “always can” if you’re not a manly man.

Down the Rabbit Hole is an immersive and quietly hypnotic tapestry of poignant characters, themes and visuals, couched in a tonally taut narrative marbled with darkly funny satire and intellectual drama. Caro shows no interest in overtly manipulating any emotions we may experience while entrenched in Totchtli’s life of extreme luxury and even more extreme isolation – it’s sad, for sure, but the film prompts us to ponder what kind of person the boy will likely become. In my estimation, individuals are equally the products of and reactions to their environment and upbringing: What kind of adult Totchtli will be is a tantalizing mystery, and we bear witness to a variety of influences in his life, including his amoral but loving father, his noble teacher, his kind and grandmotherly nanny-housekeeper and the neighbor boy who, despite having almost nothing, gives Totchli his beloved action figure. His beloved action figure that spouts phrases about possessing power, of course.

Speaking of which. The film’s key theme is the idea of dominion – Yolcaut boasts that he can give his son anything he wants, even if it’s a prized exotic animal. The world doesn’t know that Totchtli exists, and Yolcaut all but distorts reality in order to keep it that way, to protect his son from enemies. Keeping that secret is even more precarious a situation than staving off officials and rivals seeking to topple Yolcaut from his position of considerable wealth and power; he lies to his son as he lies to the entire world outside their home, and “trusts” – read: pays off – people like Mazatzin to maintain the subterfuge.

So there’s a quietly boiling tension beneath Down the Rabbit Hole’s many fascinating sequences exploring father-son relationships, and the nature of control and nurture. Beneath many borderline-surreal moments – the opulent setting is absurdist, but not so far beyond the pale as to be unbelievable – is a tug-of-war between ideas of what makes a man: Although both men are warm and affectionate to Totchtli, Yolcaut overtly preaches dominion, while Mazatzin leads by example by simply being kind. In a crucial scene, Yolcaut shoulders a rifle and declares, “Wild animals exist so someone more macho can kill them”; in another, he insists Totchli’s obsession with samurai as being “sissy” because of their clothing, and is unable to see past the superficial to understand the stoic-warrior mentality. Enhancing these themes is Caro’s lush, vivid visual approach, which uses otherworldly set pieces and a marked lack of context to keep us disoriented (he avoids establishing shots and any overt cues so we’re unable to get a true sense of time and place within Totchli’s point of view). And it all leads to quite the provocation of an ending, which perfectly encapsulates the captivating strangeness of the movie.

Down the Rabbit Hole 2024 Movie Review