Wednesday 8th October, 9pm – BFI Southbank, NFT3
Friday 10th October, 1pm – ICA
Located at the darker end of the London Film Festival’s slate, Shrew’s Nest – named simply “Shrew” in Spanish – transports the familiar plot from Stephen King’s Misery to a Spain recovering from civil war. The trappings of the period don’t quite do enough to distract from the feeling of déjà vu, but an ending that takes the story in interesting directions does enough to make this gory thriller worth your time.
At the centre of the dark story are sisters Montse and Elisa: 18-year-old Elisa works in a shop, and carries out errands, while her significantly older sister, crippled by an irrational fear of leaving the house, works as a seamstress for their neighbours, when she’s not in the depths of morphine induced unconsciousness. The pair live together in the same family apartment they were born in, but when Montse takes in a stranger who breaks his leg outside their apartment, her unhinged nature begins to show.
Or at least that’s the idea. In reality it’s pretty clear from the outset that there’s something not quite right about Montse: it’s not long before Elisa’s being beaten by her older sister while praying for forgiveness for interacting with a boy, and frequent visions of her long dead father hardly help matters.
Bringing to mind Guillermo Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone – the film shares Shrew’s Nest’s Spanish setting and rough time period – the ghosts here are purely psychological. Memories are misremembered and crucial secrets are kept so that there’s no telling just how far Montse will go to defend her household. It’s not all darkness, however. There’s a fair degree of black humour in the films final stages, although it’s not always easy to know when to laugh when serious plot points conflict with schlocky horror film tropes and gory scenes that verge on the ridiculous. It’s not an easy marriage between gory black comedy and quasi-serious drama, but the two elements work together well enough.
Shrew’s Nest’s location manager must be almost as agoraphobic as Montse, only managing to sneak out of the sisters’ apartment for quick glimpses at new tenant Carlos’ upstairs apartment, and to aim furtive glances at the road below. The limited space works well with the subject matter, creating a degree of claustrophobia and keeping audiences familiar with the setting.
In the last ten years or so, Spain has been at the forefront of the horror genre, and while Shrew’s Nest is unlikely to be hailed as groundbreaking, it’s a fine example of the reinvigorated tradition.
Joe Manners Lewis
Shrew’s Nest is released in the UK on 8th October 2014.
For further information about the BFI London Film Festival visit here.
Read more reviews from the festival here.
Watch the trailer for Shrew’s Nest here:
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