The wide expanses of Andalusia take centre stage in this thriller of drugs, duplicity, and absent girls. The film plays out across arid landscapes bleeding dust, to the tune of flies and cicadas crying out incessantly. In 1980, two sisters disappear in a decaying town, drawing two city detectives to Spain’s deepest south. One simple puzzle turns into several strangely similar ones, while detectives Pedro and Juan conflict over mismatched working styles and one’s dirtied past in Franco’s brutal regime.
The impressive scale of the landscape is revealed from the off, with aerial shots showing the occasional battered car in dried-up rice fields, and rivers heavy with dirt. This is a setting that should be beautiful, yet colour has all but abandoned it. The result is a film devoid of Hollywood glamour and packed full of naturalism: there are no droll one-liners or overblown gun fights here. The characters have sweat dripping into their eyes, flies continuously buzz and every gunshot counts. The director, Alberto Rodríguez, juxtaposes the claustrophobic small town with the surrounding desolate countryside, which seems to be repeated over and over again.
If the film has a fault, it is that we have seen this buddy-cop trope before. Two oh-so-different detectives must work together to solve the case! One won’t kick back, the other drinks too much; one is methodical, the other emotional. It is to the film’s credit that these contradictions are not relied upon too heavily, and the focus remains on the central mystery and the dusty town’s inhabitants.
This is an exceptional thriller from which it is impossible to look away. Not only does it offer an enticing plot and excellent performances from the two leads, but also a setting so authentic that it could have come straight from a faded photograph.
Marshland is released nationwide on 7th August 2015.
Watch the trailer for Marshland here: