FEATURING: Silvia Alonso, Macarena Gómez, Carolina Bang, Hugo Silva, Nadia de Santiago, Luis Tosar, Asier Etxeandia & Gracia Olayo
DIRECTING VISION: Juan Andrés & Esteban Roel
SCREENWRITER: Juan Andrés & Sofía Cuenca
What happened to the art of storytelling in horror/thriller-themed cinema? It is challenging these days to find a new horror or thriller flick that makes no attempt to bombard viewers with cheap scares, loud sounds and a series of brutal deaths that nobody could possibly care about. The drama is constantly kept to a minimum and the majority of secondary characters featured in a film typically act as one-dimensional fodder for the threat to pick off. A further issue is found when the primary characters who star in the same flicks are not much of an improvement over the stock caricatures that accompany them. This puts a film on a quick road to failure when paired with shoddy acting and a generic structure of plot progression. Filmmakers in the horror industry have forgotten how to put any sort of emphasis on showcasing a strong bit of storytelling with their scares and gory special effects. In North America anyways…
…this is where the Spanish folk come in to save the day. I can name numerous horror-thrillers (The Hidden Face, Sleep Tight, The Last Circus and Julia’s Eyes) that have originated from Latin countries in recent years that focus on building characters while simultaneously scaring their audiences. These disturbing stories offer originality and creative storytelling instead of the same old s#$5. When I heard that the new Spanish horror-thriller Shrew’s Nest would be playing at the Toronto International Film Festival, I purchased a ticket straight away. It is produced by the always amazing Alex de la Igelsia (Witching & Bitching, The Last Circus & The Day of the Beast) and lead by the fresh directing team of Juan Andrés and Esteban Roel. Shrew’s Nest is the twisted story of two dysfunctional sisters. A young lady (de Santiago) turns eighteen and becomes ready to experience the general coming-of-age moments of life that can be expected from someone her age. The agoraphobic (scared of leaving her home) older sister named Montse (Gómez) puts a roof over her younger sister and plays a motherly role. They lost their actual mother at a young age and their father walked out shortly afterwards. Life has not treated Monste very well, and therefore her sister ends up being the punching bag to her frustration. When a stranger is literally dragged into their life, conflicting emotions run wild and the younger sister attempts to stand up to her emotionally unstable older sister.
The magic behind Shrew’s Nest is its ruthless ability to get under the skin of audiences. Andrés and Roel refuse to toss their best ideas at viewers straight away. They sit back and calmly allow the story to unravel…the characters to build…the suffocating claustrophobia of the single setting to build in…the well-timed segments of gore that guarantee flinching and shock value…the soundtrack to escalate tension…the suspense to heavily sink in…and the wild onslaught of emotions to reach an all-time high. Their patience is rewarded with the creation of one of the most strongly developed villain characters in recent memory. Macarena Gómez delivers what can be deemed an Oscar-worthy performance as the truly disturbed Monste. Her character brings back frightening memories of the psychological trauma that Jack Torrance went through in The Shining. The deranged antics of Moutse can be compared to a modern-day Anne Wilkes (Misery). Screenwriters Andrés and Sofía Cuenca pay special attention to carving out a multi-dimensional villain. They went the extra mile and warped someone who could have been simply nasty for the sake of being nasty into a tragic character who viewers can understand. Somewhat! She is still delightfully bonkers nevertheless!
This cannot possibly be the feature-length directorial debut of Andrés and Roel. They are surely experienced veterans of the craft, masters of the game, and men who have made countless movies together in the past. The shocking truth is that they both only have a few short films to their names! Shrew’s Nest is the rare sort of horror-thriller that I’m still thinking about and raving about a full two days after viewing it. The brutal imagery and masterfully constructed characters are forever engraved upon my memories. The only missteps featured in the film are a few frustrating flaws in logic every now and then. Why does the younger sister constantly take her time when she does not actually have the time to waste? She refuses to acknowledge police officers, follow up on clues quickly or take action even when she knows someone may be in danger. While attempting to answer this question in a film of this nature can make a script more complicated, it can also soften the impact of critical scenes by making them feel forced instead of natural. Despite this slight annoyance, Shrew’s Nest is a near perfect debut by a group of very talented filmmakers.
Shrew’s Nest is currently my favorite horror-thriller of 2014. I am confident that both Andrés and Roel will make serious names for themselves in Spanish cinema over the next few years. It appears that the famous director Alex de la Igelsia may have created a new monster pairing of a directing team with his first executive producer efforts.
Superpower Film Scale: 4.5/5
1: Villainous Waste
2: Careless Bystander
3: Hero unaware of powers
4: On the verge of greatness
5: Heroic film
Standout acting heroes: Macarena Gómez