Family can be a mysterious and dangerous matrix of locked doors and supressed secrets, with loving family members willing to do almost anything to preserve a thin veneer of moral unity. That’s the central premise of Shrew’s Nest, another gory, effective entry in the recent plague of Spanish shock cinema which has infected markets beyond the Iberian motherland. Restricted to one expansive apartment in a post-civil war Madrid, the film unfolds as an interlocking cavalcade of cause and effect, leading to a the illumination of a family’s most brutal and buried secrets.
The tightly wound and anxiously agoraphobic Montse (a wonderfully suppressed and deranged Macarena Gómez) works is a seamstresses for private clients, maintaining the family home for her more outgoing sister Elisa (Nadia de Santiago), who is gradually coming into the age where she is interested in boys and other ungodly pursuits. With a strict Catholic penitence, Montse instructs her physically of the error of her ways, and shames her with the memory of their deceased mother, who sacrificed her life during childbirth, and their absent, stern patriarch father (Luis Tosar), who mysteriously went missing some years ago. The restrictive environment is shattered when a local con man (Hugo Silva) is found slumped against the family’s shuttered doors, prompting Montse to take him in and tend to his broken limbs as a good, unselfish soul would do. Soon, however, Montse begins to feel an undeniable lust for their dubious new companion, and, in a modern retread of Misery, will stop at nothing to convince him of her affections, despite the strictures of the ten commandments…
Sharing the light crimson drizzle of horrific French mystery L’Interior (2007) and its similar evisceration of the blood lines that tie us together, Shrew’s Nest is a nasty little bleeder that’s a fine psychological horror; a film wise enough to withhold its sordid secrets until it gets into the final, Almodóvar atrocity-aping act. Like that popular Spanish director’s work, Shrew’s Nest retains a grim humour among its plundering of Spain’s dark past, with religion, guilt and suppressed memory swarming together in a delicious gothic soufflé. With the stern Catholic plaques that adorn the apartment standing as silent observers, this is a keen satire of the ethical bonds of the clergy, of maintaining the sanctity of marriage even within a thoroughly perverted cradle. All the leads are strong, but the film is anchored by Macarena Gómez’s wild and wide-eyed conviction, making her sympathetic and horrific in equal measure as the weight of her sins finally leads to a crushing confession. This is a severe feature debut from co-directors Andrés and Roel, and another strong genre shriek from Spain.
– John McEntee