Directed by: Juanfer Andrés & Esteban Roel.
Written by: Juanfer Andrés & Sofía Cuenca.
Starring: Silvia Alonso, Carolina Bang, Nadia de Santiago, Asier Etxeandia, Macarena Gómez (Montse), Gracia Olayo, Josean Pérez, Hugo Silva (Carlos), Luis Tosar.
Shrew’s Nest is one of those movies in which everyone seems to have deep, dark secrets that they are keeping throughout the first half of the movie just so they can reveal them at the most dramatic moment possible in the second half. This always annoys me, especially when the deep, dark secrets are so blatantly obvious to everyone in the audience so that when the movie finally decides to reveal them, it is greeted with little more than a shrug.
The movie takes place in post WWII Spain, where two sisters are living together in an apartment. Their mother died in childbirth for the much younger daughter – who is now 18, beautiful and is starting to look outside her family for companionship. Their father disappeared during the war, and since then Montse (Macarena Gomez) has been raising her sister and making her living as a seamstress. Montse is, to say the least, odd – not least of which because she refuses to leave the apartment – and she appears only to have one client for her work – a rich lady who thinks Montse is a genius, and whose doctor husband is willing to give Montse her “medicine” without ever seeing her. The sister’s lives are turned upside down when the upstairs neighbor, Carlos (Hugo Silva) – a good looking young man, tumbles down the stairs and lands right outside their apartment. He has a broken leg, among other injuries – but Montse, instead of calling an ambulance, hauls him into their apartment, and straps him to the bed. At first, he doesn’t mind – he was planning on running away anyway for a little while – and this seems like a good place to lie low. Besides, Montse is taking care of him – and the younger sister is a beauty, although she has to sneak into his room to see him, as Montse has forbidden them to have contact. But as the movie moves along, his leg gets worse and he wants to go to the hospital – and Montse has no intention of letting that happen.
It’s clear that both Montse and the Carlos have dark secrets in their past – secrets they don’t want anyway else to know about. The movie contains flashbacks and hallucinations by Montse involving the girl’s father (Luis Tosar) – so I was pretty sure he’s part of her dark secrets (and I was pretty sure I knew what it was – and I was right!). The film’s first half is pretty much all setup – but once you understand what the filmmakers are setting up, it basically becomes a waiting game – as we wait for the movies to catchup with us. The second half has the secrets spill out with about the same frequency as it has the bodies pile up – and again, I was pretty sure who was going to end up dead because the movie introduces many rather pointless characters who are clearly there to up the body count.
It must be said that as obvious as the setup and payoff of Shrew’s Nest is, the film is made with skill by directors Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel. The do a good job of establishing the apartment, the characters, and slowly building suspense. The problem is they build that suspense far too slowly – it gets to the point where I was getting impatient. In the films second half, when the bodies start to pile up, they also handle that well – its bloody and grotesque, without ever quite crossing the line into exploitation.
But for all the skill that went into making Shrew’s Nest – and that extends to a wonderfully unhinged performance by Gomez as Montse – the basic feeling I had during Shrew’s Nest was impatience. I was waiting for the movie to build to something startling or new or different – and then it went in the most obvious way imaginable. There’s a lot of skill on display in Shrew’s Nest – but it pretty much all goes to waste.
Note: I saw this film at TIFF in 2014 – but it’s just getting a release – on Shudder.com today – so I am publishing my review now. I assume it’s the same version that I saw two years ago.