Reviewed by: Dave Murray
What's it about
Santi (Junio Valverde) is an outcast, made different by his extreme photosensitivity. When he and his mother move to the country for a more "shadowed" lifestyle, strange murders and mutilations start happening in the woods, and Santi, a boy the superstitious would see as a "vampire", is the village's main suspect. But the truth is far more horrific, a secret that has been kept just on the outskirts of town, one that hunts in the very shadows Santi happens to live in.
Is it good movie?
Just like good horror filled vampire flicks are hard to find these days (thank you Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton for defanging the vamp and turning horror into romance and badly written erotica), another theme that I haven't seen much of lately is feral children. Combine this with a tragic but narratively cool disability and some good old fashioned European vampire superstition, and what you get is another fine movie from Spain that manages to be original, creepy and damn entertaining.
The lynchpin of this dark nightmare is the character of Santi, who (much like the character of Chris Snow in Koontz's Fear Nothing and its sequel) suffers from a rare form of xerodermia. While not as extreme as some cases of extreme photosensitivity can be (Santi is relatively safe as long as he is covered or in the shade, so he can move about during the day), the disabilty still adds a suspenseful dynamic to the character's plight, but sadly one that is underused. The idea that direct sunlight burns, blisters and leads to certain fatal skin cancers allows for some slightly tense setups where the character predictibly has to enter the light for some noble or life saving reason. Valverde handles this weighty role well, and provides more than enough fodder for the superstitious country folk. The rest of the cast did an awesome job as well, especially Berta Ros, the little German feral girl, who is more of a crazed acrobatic vampire than an actual human. And man is she creeeepy! And yet, it is both Santi's condition and the reveal that the monster is noting more than a crazy little girl raised by wolves that ultimately drag the movie down. For the former, as stated above, his disability isn't used to the extent that it could have been, and comes across as more of a minor inconvenience. As for the "monster", they went through the trouble of setting up a great supernatural terror for the first chunk of the film, so much so that I was expecting vampires or even werewolves (which the Europeans do incredibly well on film anyway). So the reveal (which came a little too soon) was kind of anti-climactic. It made the last block of the film plod along into predictable territory, and even though there was a satisfactory ending (with a little creepy boo scare tacked on od course), the second half of the movie does feel a little lighter and weaker than the set up in the first half. With four writers, it looks like there may have been rewrites that hurt the movie in the end. Ah well, at least the performances were spot on (Mar Sodupe as Santi's mother, and Blanca Suárez as his clumsy yet yummy love interest, were also great).
That said, this is a gorgeous movie, and here the connections to other recently impressive Spanish movies comes into play. While not as bleak and horrific as The Orphanage or as fantasy laced as Pan's Labyrinth (both of which are referenced on the DVD cover), the visual style of Ortiz and the strikingly cluttered shots by cinematographer Josep M. Civit helped to heighten the suspense, especially in the weaker third act. Even when the script started lagging, the visuals still kicked ass. And in a horror movie, even one as understated and grounded as this ultimately was, it is the visual element that usually stands out, because of the fact that it can still rock a movie when the script starts dying horribly. So despite the detractions of story here, and the lack of payoff on the nifty set ups we are shown, this is still head and shoulders above most of the Western horror out there today, and as such earns my respect. Fans of atmospheric, visually deep and emotionally engaging horror flick will love it. Just be warned, it does get a little predictible in the end.
Video / Audio
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen - 1.78:1. The flick is moody, beautifully creepy, and very intense visually, all of which comes through on another spectacular Dark Sky Films release.
Audio: English and Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0) with subtitles in English. Watch it in Spanish with subtitles, for the love of all that's good and horrific! Show your support for foreign horror, and piss on the US English remakes for lazy readers!
There are a bunch of nifty looking trailers for other Dark Sky releases, as well as the Trailer for the film itself.
I'll say it again: the only really good horror, and the only original horror, that can scare the shit out of us genre fans seems to be coming from Europe. The French and the Spanish have inherited the horror throne from Italy in grand fashion, and the fact that most Euro horror movies get made into shot-for-shot American remakes before the original flick even hits this side of the ocean, and what you've got is proof of some of the best work the genre has seen in almost 20 years. Ortiz's moody and engaging play on simple fears and the power of both darkness and destructive people, creates a fascinating tragedy that is actually scary, and downright skincrawlingly creepy in some places. Great cast, believable setup, and a fine mix of themeatic and plot elements make this one to watch, if not own. It's too bad the script seems to wither about halfway in, and the movie fails to capitalize on those plot elements or its own set up effectively. Otherwise, it's a solid scary effort.
And I'm sure the remake is coming in 5...4...3...2...