Written by Justin Benson
Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Shrew’s Nest (Musarañas)
Written by Juanfer Andrés
Directed by Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel
Over the years, TIFF’s Midnight Madness programme has lost some of its grit. Once upon a time, a film as bodacious as Shrew’s Nest would have graced its lineup. Now, the Vanguard programme seems to have stepped up to take its place. While Madness highlights trendier, more easily digestible content, Vanguard takes on the more obscure. Sexy, gritty, dirty, and horrific, Vanguard’s content is far more outlandish than its older, now slightly more restrained cousin. Odd when you consider that both programmes are curated by the jovial horror fanatic Colin Geddes.
Enter two of the shining stars of TIFF’s 2014 roster – Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel’s Shrew’s Nest, and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Spring. Both films tackle the complex nature of femininity and lov, in their own twisted ways. One focuses on the psychotic tendencies of an agoraphobic sister, while the other sheds pretense to offer a scientific glance at monstrous phenomena. “Shed” being the operative word. But while both stories differ drastically, they share a common thread – dark secrets being kept to disastrous consequences.
Shrew’s Nest, a Spanish entry from first-time feature writer-director duo Andrés and Roel, is a beautiful, dark fable only the likes of the Brothers Grimm could replicate. Set in post-World War II Spain, it sees two sisters living a shut-in existence. Older sister Montse (Macarena Gómez) has cared for her beautiful little sister (Nadia de Santiago) since their mother died in childbirth. When the war broke out, their father abandoned them, leaving them to fend for themselves. Now, grown up and self-sustained, Montse is a successful seamstress, watching as her baby sister grows into a beautiful young woman.
A severe agoraphobe, Montse never leaves the house. She festers, confined to the home in which she was raised, tailoring dresses for wealthy doctors’ wives who push her to start her own shop. One day, Carlos, the upstairs neighbor, comes slamming on their door. Having taken a terrible spill down the stairs, he faints in Montse’s doorway. Panicked, she decides it would be Christian of her to take care of the injured man. What ensues is a catastrophic collaboration of the Brothers Grimm and Stephen King, making some of Misery’s most memorable scenes feel vaguely forgettable.
Coiling like an angry serpent, Shrew’s Nest winds itself tighter and tighter as the film progresses. Gracefully mounting tension, and expertly executed, it allows for perfectly timed exposition and character growth. When all hell finally breaks loose, the ensuing flood of adrenaline is unbelievable. The sensory onslaught that ensues comes predominantly out of left field, while maintaining the film’s tonal integrity without missing a beat.
Gómez is a vision in black, laced with morphine. Her crazed, psychotic Montse is truly the work of nightmares, while at times offering a softer, sentimental side that evokes pity. Her monster is a regretful one, that knows not its own strength or ferocity until it’s too late. Her timing, both dramatic and comedic, is flawless. Gómez is a revelation that steals every frame.
Andrés and Roel can rest easily, and take pride in knowing that their debut feature collaboration is a solid venture. Beautifully shot, expertly written, and elegantly executed, it is a perfect sum of its parts. Bloody and beguiling, Shrew’s Nest is spectacular.
While this was the feature film debut for one set of collaborators, TIFF 2014 marked the sophomore feature film for Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. The highly anticipated follow-up to 2012’s Resolution, Spring boasts an equally vague synopsis with an equally satisfying payoff.
After losing his mother to cancer, Evan (Evil Dead’s Lou Taylor Pucci) picks a destination at random, grabs his passport and remaining funds, and flees for his sanity. Landing in Rome, he takes to the tourist way of life – drinking, partying, eating, and sleeping far too late. Until he meets Louise (Nadia Hilker). A fascinating, beautiful woman, she captivates the aimless Evan. The two begin an odd little romance that quickly blossoms into something deeper. All the while, Louise is harboring a dark, primordial secret.
Spring has aptly been described as Before Sunrise with a dark twist. Honestly romantic, it combines elements of the supernatural and the scientific, allowing for a genre-defying leap of faith. It’s a difficult film to discuss without spoiling its impact. As with Resolution, there’s delicate potency in the unknown.
What can be said is that Spring demonstrates a significant visual and stylistic maturation from Resolution. A tonally polar opposite film, Resolution allowed for a meta-discussion on genre films as a whole. The sublimely constructed genre-bender opened minds, scratched heads, and captivated audiences across the board. Spring offers a more developed, only moderately more mainstream concept with a clearly refined visual style.
Stunning aerial shots using drones, beautiful street scenes through little Italian towns, elegant interiors – the film is visually captivating. But beyond Benson and Moorhead’s development as visual storytellers, we’re provided with a more honed version of their already expert storytelling. Warm, funny, and frightening in equal measure, Benson’s script never falters. He deftly shifts through genuine emotion, changing tone on a dime without ever missing a beat or compromising structural integrity.
While Spring is undoubtedly a genre film, Benson and Moorhead have managed to play with the parameters of the genre, something filmmakers simply aren’t doing enough of these days. Perhaps they’re more adventurous than most. What we’re given here is more than just genre. It’s earnest and honest romance, with perfectly timed comedic relief, well-executed frights, and poignant prose. What we all suspected from Resolution is now confirmed via Spring: Benson and Moorhead are two of the most adventurous young filmmakers on the scene right now. Fearless and eager, they’re pushing boundaries and breaking rules at every turn, without missing a single beat.
– Ariel Fisher