Luciana (Ana Asensio) is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. She’s broke, the rent is due on her cockroach-infested New York City apartment, a doctor won’t treat her for anxiety because she’s not a legal resident, and her friend Olga (Natasha Romanova) has roped her into a gig handing out fliers in a sexy chicken costume. It doesn’t seem like things can get much worse for her in the arresting dramatic thriller “Most Beautiful Island,” but they do.
The film is Spanish actress Asensio’s directorial debut, which she also wrote — a story of the dangers that can befall immigrants in the country illegally who slip through the cracks in a big city. Luciana’s greatest fear is becoming homeless, but she’s about to stare real fear in the face, thanks to Olga, who hooks her up with a mysterious, but well-paying job as a party guest.
When Luciana arrives at a remote warehouse, greeted by rough security guards, a lineup of terrified young women, an enigmatic madam and a group of moneyed guests, her survival instincts kick into high gear. She’s resourceful and scrappy, but the only way out of this is through it.
Asensio is a haunting presence as the desperate Luciana, clinging onto her last shreds of humanity and hope in an increasingly dire situation. As a filmmaker, she spins a fascinatingly dark and horrific fairy tale, but the film loses a bit of its power when we see what’s behind the door. Anticipation is always more powerful than the real thing. Anchored by Asensio’s fearless and gripping performance, “Most Beautiful Island” directs an unflinching point of view toward an often invisible population.
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills