LAAPFF Review: ‘In the Land of Lost Angels’ (2019), dir. Bishrel Mashbat
In the Land of Lost Angels plunges you into a world of black and white. It’s quite the bold move for director Bishrel Mashbat—especially when it comes to winning over modern audiences who are used to watching films in full color. But for the gritty, seedy type of story that he wants to tell, it works quite well.
The story follows two Mongolian Americans, Ankhaa (Erdenemunkh Tumursukh) and Orgil (Iveel Mashbat)—two thug-like immigrants who are in desperate need of money to send to an ailing relative in Mongolia. With time running out to pay for his expensive medical treatment, they devise a plan to kidnap a rich man’s son and hold him for ransom. However, as is usually the case in these kinds of schemes, not everything is able to go smoothly.
More than anything, In the Land of Lost Angels does a great job of showing you the power of what you can do with a limited budget. There is no soundtrack or color at all here, yet the story Mashbat tells remains captivating. Interesting camera angles are employed to give the film a rather unconventional look which succeeds more often than not. In its best moments, the frame looks like it could be pulled from a long-forgotten noir film from back in the day. In some of its worst, certain shoddy production design shots slip through and remind us of the film’s low budget. Black and white helps the film maintain a grim undertone throughout, but it can’t mask all of the film’s flaws.
The lead characters, Ankhaa and Orgil are also passable in their thuggish roles, but there remains some awkward line deliveries and faux angriness aren’t entirely believable. There’s also an unconvincingly calm demeanor from the kidnapping victim, which breaks the illusion a bit as well. The surmounting anxiety that builds up throughout the film, however, reverberates.
As one of the first Mongolian American films to be made, In the Land of Lost Angels brings to light a rarely represented ethnic minority to the forefront… in quite the shocking way.