It begins with a mysterious phone call. One participant is unseen but for his reflection in the glass table. Gaia (Francesca Cuttica) is offered a big paycheque for an unspecified job. She is driven to the location blindfolded, when she arrives the questioning room is kept dark, and Gaia can only see the increasingly aggressive face of Inspector Curti (Ennio Fantastichini). Curti won’t accept the docile, peaceful answers of Wang (Li Yong). Gaia grows increasingly confused and concerned about the hidden subject, and demands the lights be turned on – before her is an alien, and a moral dilemma facing not just Gaia, but the entire world.
With The Arrival of Wang, The Manetti brothers – Marco and Antonio – have infused the faded glories of 1990s sci-fi (think The X Files) with a dash of Italian giallo tradition and lashings of psychological provocation surrounding ideas of xenophobia and prejudice. For the initial stretch, the film plays heavy on the dialogue, using the extra time taken for Gaia’s translations to draw the escalating tension out of Cuttica’s harried performance. Gaia is the conduit between two extremes: the intriguing, questionable purity of Wang and the fevered, persecuting spitting of Curti. It’s a fascinating triangle of mistrust and unknown motives that Gaia has been thrust into, and Cuttica delivers an effectively bewildered performance that acts nicely as a conduit for the audience.
Halfway through, the tension shifts and the filmmaking style disperses, increasingly using angles and editing more familiar to connoisseurs of low-budget horror movies. One particular first-person angle as a character drags themself along a corridor deluged in flashing red light is vividly inspired by 1980s horror. The Manettis do some interesting things with these vivid moments of more straightforward cinematic homage, but they’re too infrequent, and undercut by the peculiar elastic appearance of the special effects. Most disappointingly, the film’s second half barely pulls along the intriguing psychological threads of the first half, and instead reduces the dynamics to their most basic.
As a piece of genre intrigue, The Arrival of Wang’s fresh twists on old ideas will satisfy sci-fi geeks to an extent, but those who immerse themselves in the frisson of social commentary the film sets out to explore may leave disappointed. There’s a unique energy to the Manetti brothers’ filmmaking; it’s inconsistent, but sharply intense when they manage to hit their targets. As a promise of what might be to come, The Arrival of Wang is an intriguing, incomplete but entertaining hybrid – it’s somewhat of an alien itself.
The Arrival of Wang was screened as part of FrightFest on Saturday 25 August. It premieres through VoD in September. The DVD is released on 22 October and can be pre-ordered through Amazon.