A descent into madness: Spanish Gothic Style
Spain’s horror film industry had a huge comeback in the 90′s with directors such as Álex de la Iglesia, Jaume Balagueró and specially, Alejandro Amenábar; a new generation of young directors demonstrating that there was a lot more going on in Spain’s cinema besides Pedro Almodóvar‘s already famous melodramas. The nightmarish nights and the urban decay of Spain’s big cities, the grim and ghostly memories of the country’s troubled past and in particular, that characteristic black humor that Spaniards domain very well. These have become the main ingredients of that tasty mix producing the dark fantasies of Spain’s new horror films.
That new and vibrant horror cinema of Spain rose to international acclaim, and started a new movement of Spaniard horror that has begun to give its fruits. Director Norberto López Amado is one of those fruits as “Nos Miran”, his first film, is an excellent effort in the horror genre that follows that style that Amenábar, Balagueró and de da Iglesia started more than 10 years ago, a style that can be clearly defined as Spain’s own brand of horror filmmaking.
In “Nos Miran”, Carmelo Gómez plays Juan García, a seasoned detective with a remarkable track record, who has just been assigned to the Barreiros case, one of the most famous unsolved mysteries in the story of the Police Department: the case of a man who one day simply vanished without leaving a trace. While at first it seems to the confident García that it’s simply an easy case of a missing person, the mystery surrounding brings back Juan’s memories of his own sister Sara (Eva Llobregat), whom as a girl disappeared in eerily similar circumstances. The similitudes between both cases start Juan’s descent into a spiral of madness and obsession. As Juan’s investigation takes him to the field of occultism, his wife Julia (Icíar Bollaín) fears that his husband will face the same fate as the previous detective in charge of the Barreiros case, Detective Medina (Karra Elejalde), who is now an inmate in the local asylum, unable to say anything else besides “they are watching us”, words that in Medina’s mouth feel more like an eerie warning than anything else.
Written by Jorge Guerricaechevarría (better known for his remarkable work with Álex de la Iglesia) and based on a novel by Javier García Sánchez, “Nos Miran” is at first sight a police mystery with noir undertones, but as soon as the mystery begins to unfold, it begins to darken as the plot thickens and the horror elements begin to take over. While certainly the plot may not have the most original mix of genres, Guerricaechevarría offers an effective and captivating story that toys with the duality of sanity and madness, the past and the present, and where reality is never what it seems. Almost void of the black humor that surrounds Guerricaechevarría‘s collaborations with de la Iglesia, “Nos Miran” is a serious Gothic horror where the very real horrors of the urban nightmare collide with the supernatural. The obsession with a tragic past is a recurrent theme in Spaniard horror (perhaps a result of the country’s troubled history), and “Nos Miran” takes the subject to great effect in Juan’s ghostly memories.
Director Norberto López Amado shows an amazing talent for a first time director, as everything seems to be in the right place to create an effectively Gothic horror film. The remarkable use of Néstor Calvo‘s camerawork to create a heavy atmosphere of dread is one of the film’s main assets, as well as the eerie score (by Bingen Mendizábal) that for the most part sets the perfect mood for every scene. Alain Bainée‘s superb work of art direction gives the film a sober and dark elegance that puts together the mix of horror story and police drama that makes the film’s style. While it’s true that López Amado shows the influence of those who came before him (mainly Amenábar‘s American film, “ “, in terms of atmosphere), the touch of film noir insanity he adds to the film enhances a sense of urgency that suits like a glove on the police drama part of the story and contrasts the Gothic sobriety, helping “Nos Miran” to rise above being just another derivative Gothic horror (which is probably the film’s biggest challenge).
As many critics have pointed out before, Carmelo Gómez is truly at his best in this movie, as he slowly gives life to this complex and irremediably troubled character in a frighteningly believable performance that certainly is the highlight of the movie. Juan’s descent into madness and the way it affects his relationship with his family is handled superbly by Gómez restrained performance, which never goes over the top and keeps an eerily natural delivery. As the film is focused completely on Gómez character, there is little room for the supporting characters to develop. However, some of the supporting actors do stand out, mainly the kids Carolina Petterson and the young Javier González (whom by the way, is a familiar face from Guillermo Del Toro‘s “ “), who give terrific performances for their young age. Icíar Bollaín also makes an effective work of acting, but she is definitely overshadowed by Gómez. The excellent Margarita Lozano appears in a small role, but her screen time is very limited and it could even be considered a cameo.
While “Nos Miran” has apparently all the ingredients to make an excellent film, it’s main problem is the fact that it cannot escape from that awful feeling of being derivative and unoriginal. While the noir elements are employed nicely and the overall film is technically flawless, at times it feels as yet another Spaniard Gothic mix of mystery and horror. Classy and elegant, but still a work almost “by the book”. Guerricaechevarría‘s take on García‘s novel focuses more on the mystery instead of its effects (as the novel does), and the detective’s madness, while a main topic in the film, is an angle not fully explored (a missed chance, in my opinion, as the glimpses we do get from it show wonderful work by actor Carmelo Gómez). While the lack of Guerricaechevarría‘s usual comedy does help to enhance the movie’s heavy atmosphere, it also creates some tedious moments where the slow pace of the film gets tiresome to the point of feeling a tad unpleasant. Nevertheless, those are in the end minor quibbles as it is ultimately its derivativeness what hurts the film the most.
Despite having these flaws, “Nos Miran” is another excellent horror film from Spain, and a great example of what seems to be a Renaissance of horror in the land of Cervantes. Like, or , this movie seems to prove that modern horror is not only coming from Asia, and that there’s more in Spain’s horror cinema than Amenábar, Balagueró and de la Iglesia. Probably “Nos Miran” may be a derivative film, but it’s easily one of the better done. And there’s always time for another tale of grim atmosphere, melancholic darkness and Gothic insanity. Hopefully, we’ll be hearing more from both Norberto López Amado and Carmelo Gómez in the years to come.
Running time: 105 mins
Audio: English, Dolby 5.1 & Dolby Stereo
Aspect ratio: 16/9 (1.78)
Making Of (22 mins)
Trailer & Teaser (Nos Miran)
Trailers Mr. Horror Presents (Blue Sunshine, Frostbite & Possessed)
Booklet (4 pages) with liner notes, pictures & terror trivia
The ‘making of’ contains interviews with director Norberto López Amado, producer César Benítez and principal castmembers Juan García & Icíar Bollaín. The behind-the-scenes footage is sparsely spread, but the interviews are interesting. We learn how the project came about and what kind of film cast & crew intended to make. A fine featurette to go with the main feature. (GV)