Shrew’s Nest (Musarañas)

Shrew1While Hollywood attempts to make horror modern and immediate to appeal to the younger generation with their iPhones and their games consoles, Spanish directing duo Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel know that the worst experiences are in the past, in childhood, in the home, in the inescapable sense being powerless at the hands of someone who should be trusted.

This then, is the tale of two sisters who lived in Madrid in the 1950s, in the aftermath of the civil war, under the rule of Franco. Told through the eyes of an unnamed girl, as a child, her elder sister Montse would read her horror stories from a book in red binding; she would pretend to fall asleep so she would leave.

Shrew2The book was the Bible, and the real horror had begun years before when their mother died leaving the two sisters under the tyranny of their father until he left for the war and never returned. Fourteen years have passed, and Montse (Dagon’s Macarena Gómez) is an agoraphobic recluse, unable to leave the cloistered confines of their apartment, hiding behind the heavy wooden doors and shuttered windows.

A skilled seamstress, her clients visit her at home, but as she completes a dress for the wealthy Doña Puri (Gracia Olayo) on the eighteenth birthday of her sister (Nadia de Santiago of the long running Spanish soap Amar en tiempos revueltos) a chance comment forces Montse to confront the inevitable, that her sister will soon meet a boy and leave her, if she hasn’t already.

Shrew3Every step echoing on the wooden floors, Gómez has a face made to express fear and revulsion. Reliant on her sister, her worry turns to violent anger which is reciprocated; her sister flees the apartment and sleeps on the stairwell that night, catching the eye of their handsome upstairs neighbour Carlos Cuenca (Hugo Silva of El cuerpo and Los amantes pasajeros).

Carlos has problems of his own; preparing to leave Madrid, in his haste he falls down the stairs, wrenching his leg badly. He crawls to Montse’s door, banging and begging to be let in; at first she refuses, but Jesus would have offered charity, so she is obliged to do the same. She carries him to the bed which was her fathers and tends to his injuries, but Catholic guilt breeds a special kind of Misery, and almost immediately Montse does not want to let him go.

Shrew4With an increasingly deranged central performance which slips into hysteria when the consequences of her actions come knocking on her door, the film belongs to Gómez, who previously played Silva’s separated wife in Álex de la Iglesia’s Las brujas de Zugarramurdi. The timeline of events is somewhat flexible, reflecting Montse’s increasingly tenuous grasp on reality, but the dubious moral of the story is to never underestimate a Spanish spinster with a hand saw.

Winner of the Audience Award for Best Feature at the 2015 Dead by Dawn Festival and with multiple nominations at the 29th Goya Awards in its native Spain where it was released on Christmas Day, Musarañas is a solid film which deserves to be seen by a wider audience, confirming the emphasis Spanish horror places on atmosphere and character over cheap shocks as demonstrated in Guillermo del Toro’s El laberinto del fauno, J A Bayona’s El Orfanato and Guillem Morales’ Los ojos de Julia and the need for audiences to get over their innate resistance to foreign language cinema.




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