Ten years have passed since Jorge Garcia wrapped his breakthrough role as the scene-stealing goofball on ABC’s “Lost,” and the world hasn’t seen much of him since then. The same can be said for Memo Garrido, the soft-spoken recluse portrayed by Garcia in what amounts to his first lead role with the Chilean drama “Nobody Knows I’m Here,” which makes up for missed time. Gaspar Antillo’s directorial debut is a curious and intriguing mixed bag that meshes “A Star Is Born” with “Searching for Sugarman” to craft the sullen backwoods story of a talented singer hiding from the world that rejected his talent long ago. Despite a bumpy screenplay and some odd tonal choices, Garcia excels as a monosyllabic Bigfoot who casts a big shadow and uses it hide from the world.
Despite the mysterious aura, “Nobody Knows I’m Here” wastes little time establishing Memo’s backstory: Grainy video recounts the melodic voice of his childhood, and how his father struggled to make a buck off it after the business determined that the boy wasn’t photogenic enough for primetime. But when a young stud is chosen to lip-sync to recordings of Memo’s voice, the child lashes out in a violent act that destroys both of their lives.
Antillo cuts between those memories and Memo’s current life in the solitude of the Chilean countryside, where he endures a bland routine with his uncle (“Neruda” star Luis Gnecco). When another sudden violent event leaves Memo on his own, he’s befriended by a kindly woman from town (Millary Lobos) intrigued by his silent, brooding existence. With time, Memo starts to come out of his shell — only to confront the demons of his past all over again.
It’s a rather simple trajectory deepened by a profound sense of psychological unease. Cinematographer Sergio Armstrong captures the isolated forest scenery as an eerie landscape of dense greenery where Memo lingers in his unassuming lakeside shack. But this staid palette is pierced by occasional neon red hues, as Memo reflects on the showbiz career stolen from him, and sometimes becomes so enmeshed in that lost dream that it seems as if it has consumed him whole.
The movie glides along with the elegance of a slow-burn thriller, and the mold doesn’t always quite sit well with the somber tale of dashed dreams that serves as its backdrop. Early on, the strange circumstances are further underserved by Lobos’ manic pixie dream girl, who has been seemingly tasked with liberating Memo from his self-imposed purgatory, and their apparent “Beauty and the Beast” dynamic feels strained. Thankfully, the movie shakes off its stock character problem as the person they revolve around remains such a magnetic, fascinating object — either a gentle giant or a ticking time bomb depending on how one chooses to view his situation.
Garcia may or may not speak Spanish all that well; the character barely speaks more than a dozen words over the course of 90-odd minutes, and as the movie keeps us guessing which way he’ll turn out until the very last moment, he never clarifies his concerns with a tell-all monologue. It all comes down to a mournful gaze, and the simmering rage visible just beneath it.
“Nobody Knows I’m Here” was co-produced by filmmaker Pablo Larrain, and the movie calls to mind his 2008 psycho-dancer drama “Tony Manero” in the way it tracks a stone-faced introvert who desires the bright colors of an entertainment industry complex that has no interest in giving him a platform. Of course, that template stretches back to “The King of Comedy” (and was memorably saluted with last year’s “Joker”), but “Nobody Knows I’m Here” does a sturdy job of finding its own way in.
The movie’s bracing climax, a mesmerizing long take that finds Garcia performs the title song with all the soulful anguish of a very good Ian Curtis tribute band, arrives as one of those grand cinematic gestures where reality and fantasy find a harmonious middle ground. Memo’s fate remains uncertain, but “Nobody Knows I’m Here” makes it clear that he deserves the spotlight — and Garcia does, too.
“Nobody Knows I’m Here” premieres on Netflix on Wednesday, June 24.