Sunday, August 30, 2015
Juanra Fernández's Para Elisa
Cody answers the call of Para Elisa, a Spanish horror film coming to DVD and VOD from Dark Sky Films on September 1st.
Petulant and irresponsible, in an on-and-off relationship with a drug dealer (who's also secretly sleeping with her "classy" best friend), college student Ana is not the type of girl you'd want to have watching your children. She doesn't seem like she'd be very good at it. Nevertheless, when she needs some quick cash to pay for a post-graduation trip to the Portuguese archipelago Madeira, a nanny job is what she seeks out, figuring that watching kids is an easy thing to do.
Eccentric sixty-something Diamantina is looking for a nanny to take care of her daughter Elisa. By the time Ana realizes that Elisa is not a child but a mentally unbalanced adult, it's too late. She is knocked out and her vocal cords neutralized by dieffenbachia sap so she can be held captive as a living doll for Elisa to play with.
For someone who wants to get away with a crime, Diamantina is really not careful at all. In the "help wanted" ads, she puts her phone number out there for anyone in town to see. Ana's friends know she called that number and went to Diamantina's apartment to interview for the job, Ana could have given that address to anyone. But the mother and daughter have gotten away with it before, Ana is only the latest in a line of human dolls Elisa has had, so the sloppiness hasn't been an issue up to this point.
This time, however, things go disastrously wrong.
The feature debut of writer/director Juanra Fernández, Para Elisa really has very little to offer the viewer, a large part of its 74 minute running time (including around 7 minutes of credits) consisting simply of the mute Ana being tied up, brutalized, and screamed at by a maniac. There's no substance here, and it feels rushed.
If Diamantina and Elisa's living situation had been delved into more deeply and if we were able to see more of what things are typically like for one of Elisa's dolls, the movie would have been much more interesting. Instead, the situation begins falling apart as soon as the set-up is over, and an interesting character is removed from the film too early. There's nothing here that horror fans haven't seen numerous times before, but there could have been if Fernández had fleshed out his characters more.
Fernández did make his protagonists unique. Ana is vapid and unlikeable, and after she has been captured her cheating, drug dealing boyfriend emerges as the hero of the piece, starting a frantic search for her before the first day is out. Watching him panic stirs sympathy and ends up making him the most likeable person in the film.
Jesús Caba does a great job in the role of the boyfriend, and the actresses playing Ana, Elisa, and Diamantina - Ona Casamiquela, Ana Turpin, and Luisa Gavasa, respectively - all deliver awesome performances. If there's something that makes Para Elisa worth seeking out, it's the chance to watch them work.
Another noteworthy element is the cinematography by David Valldepérez. The movie looks fantastic.
Para Elisa isn't bad, it's just underwhelming, which is a shame because it feels like the story had the potential to be turned into a much better film. The elements were in place, they just don't come together in a satisfying manner.