Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Spain Month: Hierro

Shhh. We've not posted a thing in nearly two weeks, but don't tell anyone. It's been a busy while; Rhona's got exams and I stupidly installed Skyrim on my PC. Things should be back to normal soon.

hierro 2009 film elena anaya gabe ibanez poster

Elena Anaya is a force to be reckoned with. Three weeks ago I reviewed her performance in The Skin I Live In and today, as the last post of this year's (slightly extended) International Month, I'm reviewing one of her earlier films: the stylish pseudo-supernatural thriller Hierro.

Anaya plays Maria, a woman who very recently lost her son under mysterious circumstances on a ferry to the titular El Hierro, a tiny Spanish-owned island in the Canaries. Months later she's called back to the island to identify a washed-up body that may be her son; but when she arrives it feels like something isn't quite right. Maybe her son is still alive, and maybe someone has him on the island. *dun duuuun*

hierro 2009 film elena anaya gabe ibanez island landscape pier ocean
"Gee, this sure sounds like a zinger of a mystery. Let's split up and search for clues!"
We'll start with the setting. Golly, the Canaries are beautiful. Why do people not film stuff on tiny sort-of-tropical islands more often? It looks lovely and adds a lot of unique character to something that would otherwise have been swept out to a sea of banal modern horror-thriller tropes. The overcast, close weather really lends to the atmosphere of the film too; you could even say there's themes. Like nature, and stuff being all unclear and foggy and shit, and I really can't be arsed with that artsy symbolism stuff today. 

hierro 2009 film elena anaya gabe ibanez nude beach ocean
Here's Elena Anaya's boobs again. Now leave me alone.
It's not just the island that look gorgeous though, the cinematography is plain yet stylish and very effective. Whoever was behind this really took the time to set up some nice frames for the viewer to chew on, making Hierro enjoyable even just to stare blankly at. You could happily turn it into a screensaver; in a good way. Maybe the desaturation could have been lifted just a tad to let the greenery and water stand out a bit more, but generally it's a treat to look at.

hierro 2009 film elena anaya gabe ibanez car crash birds landscape
" Ahh...A car crash never seemed so peaceful."
"I think I hear people shouting for hel-"
"Shh. Don't spoil it."
A horror-thriller wouldn't be complete without two things: a recurring animal motif and weird trippy dreams. Oh, well would you looky here, it appears some cheeky devil has snuck both of those into Hierro. What are the chances...? Maria (Anaya), having suffered the loss of her son, appears to have gone a bit...distant, and begins experiencing some rather unusual visions, often accompanied by one of my favourite uses of animals as horror icons in a long time: a flock of birds. Not shit-flying-at-your-face kind of birds, but the formation of them in the sky, much like the above picture. Or the below gifsicle.

hierro 2009 film elena anaya gabe ibanez nightmare birds gif
"O hai."
It's a much subtler use of nature than the usual "let's throw crows at you until they stick" mentality of horror imagery; there's a subtle finesse to it that's that perfect mix of surreal/haunting and natural. The rest of the nightmare sequences follow suit, making for some great sequences that straddle the line between creepy surrealism and outright nonsense with skill, never dipping too far but still managing to be surprisingly iffy-makey.

hierro 2009 film elena anaya gabe ibanez nightmare son diego doll bath
Doll heads should be outlawed in all places for ever and ever.
OK, the setting is my next holiday destination, the camera work is, as you can see, up to scratch, and it brings a little much-needed tact to an otherwise heavy-handed genre; now to the acting. It's...really good too! Oh mai, you're getting all the praise, Hierro, aren't you? Who's a good movie!? You are! You are!

'hem. Yes. Elena Anaya is, as my pull at the beginning of the post said, a force in this film. I don't know if it's her creepily pretty eyes or that half-there look she gives, but she captures someone who's maybe a little too close to becoming unhinged so well it's scary. For once in a horror film, it's not the supernatural or scary stuff that makes the film creepy, it's the way the lead reacts to and interacts with the world around her that does it. Anaya's wanders all over the island with wide-eyed unease and you're scared (even when you normally wouldn't be) because you can tell that she is; Maria is terrified and confused and so are you.

Hierro isn't exactly cast heavy and the other characters who do appear all take up but a fraction of the run time, but they're all pretty good too. Interestingly, looking at the IMDb page, a lot of the character names end in 'a': Maria, Laura, Tania, Julia, Elena. Weird. Interesting, but of completely no consequence.

hierro 2009 film elena anaya gabe ibanez caravan fight
"Wait, are you Laura? Or am I Elena? Shit."
Here comes the criticism. Despite all of the things it does right, Hierro falls down right where it counts: being unoriginal. Yes, it's pretty and well shot and has good acting, but there's nothing new here; there's the obligatory twist at the ending and the credits arrive and that's it. You're done. It's entertaining, but you'll finish feeling unfulfilled, like there should have been more. I can't fault it on a technical level, it's great; it's just too bad it's another landscape of a mountain in an art gallery full of...yeah, you get the analogy. If you've the time/inclination to spend watching Anaya once again being awesome, then it's worth it, but don't hold your breath for any revelations.

hierro 2009 film elena anaya gabe ibanez hospital ants
Bonus Screenshot! I just really like this one; there's ants.

Moustache Rating

daniel craig ginger moustache

The Daniel Craig -
Yup. Did you even know he had one? I didn't. This is a moustache that exists on something beautiful, but is itself marred by its own ennui. Short lived and eventually forgotten.

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