Routine ghosts with inventive tricks
It looks as if Spain has ambitions to become the new Japan when it comes to unleashing atmospheric & convoluted ghost stories upon us horror-loving audiences. After the hugely successful ‘The Orphanage’ (2007) last year (as well as Amenábar‘s ‘The Others’, del Toro‘s ‘The Devil’s Backbone‘ and a couple more, earlier this decade), The Beckoning is already another brand new tale of the supernatural containing all the basic ingredients: ominous mansions with hidden attics, spontaneously appearing and disappearing ghosts, slowly revealing secrets from a distant past, suspicious links with the Catholic regime, characters who may or may not be dead for a long time already and completely unfathomable plot twists. I think we’ve all developed a rather skeptical attitude towards this type of films by now, as a small majority of them unceasingly build up towards a climax that can’t possibly live up to all the raised expectations. The Beckoning also threatens to fall into this category, at first, but ultimately has a lot more merits than shortcomings. You certainly shouldn’t expect a unique ghost-chiller that’ll blow you out of your seat, but there’s a fine balance between imaginative story lines and stylistic elements.
In addition to the standard Haunted House fare, Elio Quiroga fascinatingly processed an authentic piece of obscure Spanish history into his screenplay. The No-Do’s were a type of propaganda films, distributed by the Catholic Church during the reign of Franco, revolving on (manipulated?) miraculous occurrences and/or divine interventions. One specifically peculiar No-Do forms a very important part of the starting point of this film. The old No-Do reports about a Catholic orphanage were the Virgin Mary supposedly appeared and cured the ill. Several decades later, the large mansion is abandoned and the Catholic Church decides to rent it out. Pedro and his wife Francesca, who just gave birth to their second child, are very interested in the place and move in. Francesca struggles with a postnatal depression and is extremely sensitive to the mysterious occurrences in the house, which are gradually growing stronger. She starts having nightmarish visions, receives supernatural visits and discovers hidden chambers that all indicate tragic and sinister events took place in the house rather than miracles. There are several more sub plots and additional story elements I could add, but they aren’t all equally relevant and only raise unnecessary confusion.
The scenes dealing with the mysterious No-Do movies are undoubtedly the best, but admittedly several of the spook-out sequences are admirably staged and moderately unsettling. There are, for example, rooms full of decayed old play dolls, creepy old nursery tunes and haunting images of deceased children. Nothing in this film qualifies as truly shocking and/or original (except for the No-Do angle), but I’m already very glad The Beckoning is never boring or overly sentimental. The conclusion is very satisfying, for once, albeit fairly predictable. Stylishly directed by Elio Quiroga, who previously made the oddly compelling and eccentric Sci-Fi/horror hybrid ‘The Cold Hour’ (aka La Hora Fría). Fans of Alejandro Amenábar films will also recognize leading lady Ana Torrent, as she starred in his solid debut film from ’96, Tesis.