Sunday, April 10, 2011

Horror Film Review

They're Watching Us (2002):  Ghost flick!  From Spain!  Yes, you will need to deal with the subtitles.  Now, I said ghost flick, but Nos Miran is not your ordinary haunted house tale.  Think bigger, think grander scale. Have you ever wondered what really happens to people who vanish without a trace and why?  Well, now we know.  And it's weird...not to mention creepy.  (It will make you think twice about doing those embarrassing things you do when you think nobody's looking.)

The pre-credits scene shows a group of kids by some railroad tracks.  One boy draws a short stick and has to lie down between the rails while a train thunders over the top of him.  Afterwards, he gets up to find the other children have gone.  Vanished.  One of them was his sister Sara. 

Juan (Carmelo Gomez) is a police detective assigned to a three-year old missing persons case in which a weathly industralist disappeared.  Shortly after he begins, Juan comes across boxes of other missing persons files meticulously compiled by an ex-cop who went nuts.  This cop is now in an asylum and will only say three words, "They're watching us."  Juan soon discovers what crazy-cop discovered, that there are angry spirits trapped on earth who like to influence the living to do bad things and also shanghai folks into their purgatory.  Certain kids are able to see these spirits and some adults can as well by using a reflective surface.  Juan's terrified they're after his son Alex (Manuel Lozano) and daughter Laura (Carolina Petterson) and slowly starts down that road to the booby-hatch as well.  (By the way, the ghosts somehow managed to convince the ex-cop to kill his own son.)  Juan's wife Julia (Iciar Bollain) is like a lioness protecting her young when he starts acting squirelly but ultimately, she can't keep Laura from vanishing.  Juan knows how to get her back and so heads to the subway where, for reasons I have yet to understand, all of the trapped spirits are on a train waiting for him.  As you probably guessed, the boy at the beginning of the film was Juan and the ghosts had wanted him the whole time.  He sacrifices himself for his daughter, who makes it back home just fine.  Although I'm not sure how much of a sacrifice it was since he was bleeding to death from a gunshot wound anyway.  At least he's reunited with his sister.  I supposed there is that.

There were things in this movie I didn't understand, actions taken by characters that defied logic, and emotions emoted that didn's seem to fit the circumstance.  I'm going to assume a subtext wasn't properly communicated due to the difficulty in maintaining an accurate translation via the subtitles.  (I prefer that to saying I'm a moron and missed something obvious.)  That said, I love movies from Spain.  The passion, the intensity with which they throw themselves into the acting and the filmmaking itself draws you in and gets the adrenaline flowing.  I would call this more of a suspense film than horror, but that doesn't mean there aren't some seriously spooky parts.  Ghosts, remember?

The Breakdown

Acting:  I think there's a misconception that the best actors come from English-speaking countries.  This lot are simply brilliant.  Bollain as Julia is a stand-out.  She reminds me of Annette Bening.
Story:  A new take on the haunted house idea that didn't quite gel but came close.  I think one more rewrite and they'd have had it perfect.
Direction:  Here's where I feel the main problem is.  Director Norberto Lopez Amado let this get away from him a little.  The first half was well controlled and perfectly paced.  The second half...not so much.
Production Values:  No complaints whatsoever.  Hollywood quality.
Gore/FX:  A few drops of blood and no gore.  The ghost FX are very well done (there are only a handful, though).
The Ending:  Sort of a good news/bad news thing.  Juan's fate is inevitable (I know, I could fate not be inevitable) but we still don't want his kids to grow up without him.  Well, when you think about everything that's happened, that turns out not to be a worry.
The Verdict:  Should you see They're Watching Us (Nos Miran)?  Si.  Not for the novelty of it being from Spain but because it's a pretty good movie.  It's not great, just pretty good.  And given the dearth of quality horror, I'll take 'pretty good' any day.

My Rating3 out of 5 stars.

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