Like its eponymous protagonist, mysterious Spanish-language (occasionally English-language) thriller Boi is one smooth but flawed operator. Flaunting distinct nods to the now nebulous neo-noir genre, Jorge M. Fontana’s freshman feature is a semi-polished character study of a young man held prisoner by his own creative shortcomings and romantic qualms. At first, it seems this Netflix film succumbs to the age-old style-over-substance fallacy – snappy but failing to convey the existential tensions within this malcontent young man. On closer inspection, we see hidden depths lurk beneath Boi’s glossy veneer.

In Barcelona, aspiring author Boi (Bernat Quintana) accepts a job as a chauffeur. While neurotically awaiting a call from pregnant girlfriend Anna (Miranda Gas) – who he stupidly ditched before retreating to his aunt’s apartment – the 20-something gets his first gig. Tasked with collecting two enigmatic Singaporean execs from the airport, little does he know trouble lies in wait.

As Boi zips around the city in a shiny Beemer, distracted by his myriad woes, it’s hard not to bleed for the poor soul. Taking him well beyond the call of duty, Fontana drags the guy into one tight spot after another, and we desperately pray he’ll make it out the other side. It’s all good writing fodder though – for both him and me. Every cloud! Thanks to Quintana’s talents and the economical script he’s got on his hands, we have a lead worth investing in and one of the streaming platform’s best foreign-language films to date. After recently roasting Stuber – an abysmal comedy about a cop who coerces an Uber driver into a madcap quest for justice – it’s nice to champion a further movie going down the whole driver-passenger caper route.

Amidst the havoc – powerfully accented by Pablo Díaz-Reixa’s pulsing, synthy score – the brooding Saroyan-wannabe steals a few moments to read correspondence from a publisher. Sadly, his novel Reasonable Blood gets a big thumbs down. No doubt it’s merely the latest in a long line of knock-backs, the manuscript only destined for success with ‘time, maturity, silence, and obsession.’ It soon becomes apparent the book is much more than a symbol of Boi’s artistic limitations, Fontana employing it to fold an elusive element of fantasy into his story – one we’d thought was entirely grounded in reality until then. The rookie writer-director subtly implies his character’s existence is somehow inextricably linked to the novel. Are the two, in fact, one and the same?

Supposing this interpretation nears the truth, it stands to reason the movie’s imperfections are intentional. It appears Fontana has a lot to say, but like his hero, struggles to articulate it coherently. If Boi’s life does mirror the novel, that lack of coherence has been cleverly engineered to play out the defects in his fiction. It would be a seriously ingenious idea, but an insanely risky move given its inherent ambiguity. Of course, there’s a chance I’m wide of the mark here, foolishly grasping in the dark for non-existent exposition. I made a similar case for Steven Knight’s neo-noir thriller Serenity, which most critics savaged, but I stand by my defence of wilful disorder in filmmaking – or, at least, my potentially dodgy perception of it. Keep my thoughts in mind, look past Netflix’s often ropy subtitles, and you can count on a tidy thriller.

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