Sometimes, an actor’s presence is powerful enough to unsettle viewers. The sunken eyes of Marcarena Gomez, who plays ‘Montse’ in Esteban Roel and Juanfer Andres’ Shrew’s Nest (aka Musaranas, 2014) create that impact. Montse, a victim and victimizer is frail and fierce at the same time. She is mixture of Stephen King’s overly pious cringeworthy women and the sadistic Anne Wilkes (Misery). She is the gravitational force of the narrative, which has certain forced as well as implausible elements.
Famous Spanish horror filmmaker Alex de la Iglesia (The Day of the Beast, The Perfect Crime) has endorsed Shrew’s Nest. Roel and Andres’ story incorporates some of Alex’s trademark narrative elements – claustrophobic atmosphere, outlandish horror, dysfunctional family dynamics. Although Shrew’s Nest (91 minutes) is a lot grimmer than Alex’s darkly comic tone.
The film opens from the perspective of a child, who recalls the atmosphere of dread looming over their home. The child confides that her sister would read horrific stories from a book (which happens to be Bible) while crying a lot. The prologue strongly hints at a dark family secret, few paces away from the child’s room. The secret, however, gradually rots the core of family dynamics. The narrative is majorly set in 1950s Spain (memories of civil war violence lingering). The child has now transformed to a beautiful 18-year-old girl, the image of fresh-faced innocence (Nadia de Santiago). Her sanctimonious sister Montse (Marcarena Gomez), once a fragile creature, has now turned to a stern matriarch.
The sisters’ father (Luis Tosar) is said to have disappeared 18 years ago, during the Spanish civil war while the mother died after giving birth to Montse’s sister. Montse suffers from agoraphobia. She can’t take a single step out of the apartment, before succumbing to an anxiety attack. She also often has hallucinations where the oppressive father stirs up her guilt and rage. Montse spends her days in the nest, earning money through excellent dressmaking skills. One of Montse’s frequent clients advises her to take treatment, since the younger sister may soon fly away from the nest. Montse is distressed and to her dismay, sees (spying from a window) her beautiful sister speaking to a young man.
Montse later punishes the younger sister (name isn’t revealed to the viewers) who hits back at Montse with an iron box and runs outside the home. The thread of violence connecting the sisters seems to be stronger than the superficial expressions of love. A handsome young stranger named Carlos (Hugo Silva) temporarily relieves Montse’s worries about a lonely future. Carlos, who lives in the upstairs apartment, lands unconsciously on Montse’s apartment after falling from the stairs. From then on, the frail seamstress’ craziness and penchant for violence goes overboard.
For those who have seen Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), The Beguiled (1971) and Misery (1990), the narrative trajectory will seem fairly predictable. In fact, the makers doesn’t try to circumvent genre conventions. They use religious repression and chauvinism themes to augment tension than for a deep examination. Some suspension of disbelief is essential to get through the film’s second half. The younger sister’s behavior, at times, seems more appalling than Montse’s craziness. Technically, Shrew’s Nest simmers with Gothic atmosphere and pungent mood. The conflict between the sisters is well established before jumping on to bloodletting and gruesome amputations. The carnage may immensely satisfy gore fans.
Smooth camerawork easily makes us forget that the whole film takes place in a single location. The mechanics of the film do compensate for some of the narrative implausibilities. Yet, Gomez’s performance as Montse is the film’s chief attraction. Gomez, best known for her comedy roles, captures Montse’s hysteria with vigor. Gomez’s self-aware elegy and vulnerability in the initial scenes feels genuine enough to entrap viewers in Montse’s world of brutality and agony.
A wickedly entertaining horror/thriller, Shrew’s Nest skillfully blends horror and gore-filled violence elements.
By Arun Kumar
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