Perhaps the most personally disappointing installment in this year’s Spanish Film Festival, Shrew’s Nest (Musarañas) caught my attention with two fantastic posters and the Álex de la Iglesia seal of approval.1 Considering how rarely Australia’s smaller cultural film festivals pick up Horror films, I assumed I was in for something extremely special – unfortunately this couldn’t be further from the truth. Shrew’s Nest is, barring a few momentary exceptions, an extremely dull, by the numbers Spanish shocker. It’s simultaneously too detached from and too derivative of de la Iglesia’s work resulting in a mess that isn’t worthy of your time from any standpoint.2
The first feature film from writer/directors Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel (co-written by Sofía Cuenca and Emma Tusell), Shrew’s Nest follows Montse (Macarena Gómez), a controlling, delusional, housebound tailor who has spent her youth raising her sister Nia (Nadia de Santiago), a rebellious 18-year-old looking for a life free from the abuse inflicted upon her by her clearly mentally unstable and morphine-addicted sister. One day, when a neighbour falls down the stairs, Montse kidnaps him, holding him captive in a Misery-style situation that almost comes to resemble Clint Eastwood’s long forgotten The Beguiled.3 As questions are raised about his whereabouts, Montse’s world comes crashing down around her with bloody, and humorous results. This portion of the film is fantastic; grizzly, visceral, and entertaining in equal measure often even verging upon satire in that wonderful way that only Spanish films can pull off; unfortunately it is too little too late as this 20 or so minute chunk does nothing to make up for the drab preceding hour that trudges along at a glacial pace.
There’s clearly a bit of social commentary concerning the history of Spain and religion going on here (the post-war setting of the film and the tried and tested final ‘twist’ pretty much give away that there is a definite subtext), however, I honestly didn’t care enough to scratch beneath the surface of the base elements of this film to extract further meaning. Not everything (excluding the aforementioned finale) is this poor quality however. Although the rest of the cast somewhere between just passable and alright, Macarena Gómez shines as Monste, turning in a fantastic performance that is one of the only things that makes the film bearable during the dull opening two-thirds. Also great (as her absent father) is Luis Tosar who has at this point – between his work in this and Sleep Tight 4 carved out a niche for himself as a sadistic, brooding figure of dread that is easily as frightening as Javier Bardem’s Chigurh from No Country for Old Men. The gore effects, although silly, are entertaining in their goofiness and the FX staff absolutely nail that thick, dark, syrup-ey blood that the Spanish do so very well.
The film definitely feels like it could be really good, if it wasn’t just a one hour filler-film attached to a killer 15-20 minute closing short. At the end of the day, with only a limited lifespan, your time could really be much better spent doing something other than watching Shrew’s Nest. It’s not particularly interesting, there aren’t really lessons to be extracted from its missteps and it’s pretty uniformly dull overall. It’s a shame; I really wish it was much better than it is or at least spectacular in its failure but instead it’s just a dull mess. It would be great to see some more Horror films playing the smaller Australian festivals so we could get an even spread of independent foreign Horror screenings throughout the year instead of having everything dumped straight-to-DVD, barring the few that are lucky enough to make it into Sydney Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival, or A Night of Horror; unfortunately Shrew’s Nest isn’t going to be some runaway audience success that spurs on the introduction of more spooky content to Australia.5 There’s some great stuff at this year’s Spanish Film Festival for thrillseekers after darker and weirder stuff, skip this misfire and check out something like the True Detective-esque Marshland or the Magical Realism infused They Are All Dead instead, I can almost guarantee your time will be better spent.