For an allegory on his home country, Chilean filmmaker Pablo Lorrain uses two cultural elements very familiar to Americans: Saturday Night Fever and serial killers.

For an allegory on his home country, Chilean filmmaker Pablo Lorrain uses two cultural elements very familiar to Americans: Saturday Night Fever and serial killers.

Star-cowriter Alfredo Castro plays Raul, a 52-year-old circa 1978 who's completely obsessed with John Travolta's iconic character Tony Manero.

Unemployed and nearly emotionless, he splits his time between preparing for a national TV show's Manero look-alike contest, performing Tony's moves with a group of amateur dancers at a dive bar and making pathetic sexual advances at the female dancers and the club's owner.

The only people who can successfully work up Raul - to their regret - are those who challenge his dream or present an opportunity for him to make some money to advance it, as we discover when he beats an old woman to death for her color TV.

He's surrounded by political turmoil, but to Raul, all the anti-Pinochet pamphlets being distributed by an acquaintance are just a convenient diversion for law enforcement.

For much of the film Castro maintains an appropriate dead stare and psychic distance, which intensifies the impact, both warming and chilling, of those few moments when he floods his eyes and movements with deadly intent or the light of private fantasy.

Although an examination of Lorrain's film would benefit from some knowledge of late-20th-century Chilean history and America's meddling therein, it's not hard to translate what he's getting at by returning a beloved cultural export to the States all twisted and murderous.