It’s not the bed bugs you should be wary of.
The creative minds behind the harrowing and brilliantly executed REC franchise return with another addition to the horror genre. Spanish filmmakers, Jaume Balagueró (without REC co-director Paco Plaza) and Alberto Marini (who worked as producer on REC), reunite as director and writer respectively in creating this deeply unsettling tale that, unlike REC, carries darkly comic undertones.
Though it’s not overtly comical – it would be foolish to forget just how disturbing the central premise is – the concept of the central character is curiously peculiar and entirely innovative. The film follows César, a lonely, reserved concierge who works in an apartment building in Barcelona, harbouring a dark secret; his sole desire is to make others unhappy.
Despite the complexity of the character he is portraying Luis Tosar approaches his central performance with aplomb; capturing every inch of this complicated person and his perplexing psyche.
At the beginning of the film César appears a lonely man helplessly in love with the most beautiful and cheerful houseguest Clara. However, as César’s true intentions are unearthed, things escalate rapidly. Both actor and director work in tandem, brilliantly tapping into the audiences’ morbid curiosity as they hope to discover just how far this character is willing to go to fulfil his self-appointed values. Before long his affection becomes a frightening obsession and Clara’s carefree attitude aggravates César to the point of animosity. Equipped with his surgical mask, varying tools and chloroformed rag he embarks on a series of disturbing physical violations against her in an attempt to ruin her life by any means.
Naturally there are issues with a protagonist of this nature; in the sense that he’s a frightening psychopath. However, such is the greatness of Tosar’s performance and the suspense that Balagueró creates, that at times it’s easy to find yourself forgetting your morals and supporting this maniac when he’s nearly caught. Thankfully whenever this situation arises, the narrative escalates further as a reminder of just how nightmarish this character truly is.
Stepping away from their typical style the narrative is interjected with several comical diversions, from a pet-obsessed old lady to a young girl who blackmails César to provide her with adult films. Juxtaposed with the with the filmmakers’ familiar style of excessively bloody violence, these gory, REC-esque flourishes make for a rather rude awakening from the film’s subdued, light-hearted opening third.
Many audiences will be unsettled by the ideologies presented and positions the film puts you in, but, quite simply, that’s the point of this expertly creepy and fantastically wicked horror film.
Seen as part of the 48th Chicago International Film Festival