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Shrew's Nest
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by Jay Seaver

"Digs in and won't let you escape."
4 stars

SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2014: "Shrew's Nest" is designed to stuff a lot of movie into a small space, and on that count it succeeds quite nicely: Even if it's not as constrained to one location as that apartment's agoraphobic resident, it's got a gravitational force that pulls one back during the brief sojourns away, and enough going on inside to keep it interesting.

The resident of that apartment is Montse (Macarena Gomez), a severely agoraphobic dressmaker who hasn't left in years, serving loyal customer Doña Puri (Gracia Olayo) and having her younger sister (Nadia de Santiago) who just turned eighteen, deliver others. Not that she's totally alone when her sister is at work; she imagines the father who abandoned them fourteen years ago (Luis Tosar), and one day Carlos (Hugo Silva) falls down the stairs from his apartment on the next floor, knocking himself unconscious and breaking his leg. This stirs new feelings in the deeply religious Montse, although with three people in one apartment keeping secrets from each other, a situation that was already becoming stressed is guaranteed to break.

And while things do break in fairly spectacular fashion, the build-up is perhaps even more accomplished, as the filmmakers get us to watch the sisters play out a few days that are maybe not quite normal for them, but which don't quite feel like tipping points. Directors Juanfer Andres and Esteban Roel (working from a screenplay by Andres and Sofia Cuenca) do an excellent job of increasing the tension as they reveal the different sides of Montse's instability while also building a situation that it would be difficult to just leave. It's ace work, telling the audience everything it needs to know while also leaving empty spaces in the structure that can either be filled in during the rest of the film or used to make things collapse.

And while that second half when things start to go south sometimes has mechanical bits that don't quite fit together - scenes where one of the three people in the apartment seemingly isn't accounted for and moments when holding certain bits of information back becomes obvious and artificial - things pick up speed as the situation goes to hell. There are some outrageous gross-out moments which tip moments of the film into black comedy (augmented by Joan Valent's suddenly-playful score) without undercutting the tension or the genuine emotional connections between the characters. It's the sort of finale that has an extra layer of dread because, on a level very close to the surface, there's very little desire on any character's part to kill another, but everything has been stretched too far.

At the center of all of this is Macarena Gomez, an actress principally known for comedy in Spain but one who dives into Montse's madness with gusto, showing the older sister as trembling from morphine addiction and with a voice that always seems about to crack but occasionally letting a desire to get better or a bit of disappointment with what she has allowed herself to become to show through and get the audience on her side for a moment. Impressive, because she's also terrifying, with a frame of steel underneath the quivering exterior, quite capable of intimidating her sister and wielding the hold she has on people (physical or emotional) without undercutting the fragility at all.

The other two points of the triangle (which, impressively, doesn't overpower the rest of the tension the way these infatuations often do) put in good work as well: Hugo Silva pumps out plenty of charm even though the audience is given plenty of reason to suspect that he's kind of a louse, which is probably exactly what Montse would fall for. Nadia de Santiago, meanwhile, does a great job of portraying a heroine who has very pointedly just turned eighteen and clearly has the capabilities and mind of a responsible adult but who has been kept a child in certain ways. She captures the audience quickly, but doesn't assert herself too much in scenes until it's really appropriate. There's fine supporting work on the next tier as well, most notably Luis Tosar and Gracia Olayo.

It comes together as a slick, morbidly exciting thriller, and it's not really a surprise to see Alex de la Iglesia's name in the credits as a producer or a number of his regular collaborators showing up before and behind the camera. Andres, Roel, and Cuenca have built an nifty movie for their first feature, smart and earnest horror that doesn't trade great characterization away to have great fun.

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originally posted: 09/23/14 00:20:21
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 London Film Festival For more in the 2014 London Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2014 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Stanley Film Festival For more in the 2015 Stanley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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