Narciso Ibañez Serrador, and starring Lewis Flander and Prunella Ransome; none of whom I have ever heard of before. Which is a pity, since this is definitely a film worth knowing about, and so I would hope that the names associated it would also be known, but alas no. But that is a mistake we're rectifying now, isn't it?
I'd heard mention of this film, so I was peripherally aware of it, so when a new DVD was being released I thought I'd give it a shot, since it was meant to be somewhat of a classic. It's always a risk doing this, you're never sure what you're going to get, as some people's classic is another man's Transformers (also known as the worst film ever made).
I guess this is a fairly simple film, in terms of plot. A holidaying couple, married and expecting their third child, are traveling in Spain without their children. The husband wants to take his wife to an island where he had visited 12 years ago, an isolated bit of paradise. They hire a boat and travel the 4 hours to get there, where they are greeted at the docks by smiling kids. They go off in search of the boarding house, only to discover something is amiss. I don't want to say too much more, but I think you can get a sense of what might be happening by the poster art.
The film was really effective at building the tension, it's a genuinely creepy film. There isn't much blood or violence in the film, but what there is shocking due to the context and escalating dread the film creates. If you read other reviews of this film, a lot is made of how the majority of this film is shot in daylight, the opposite a typical horror film. That's true, it is beautifully shot, the village looks like a Mediterranean idyll, and you can imagine wanting to visit there, which is why it's so unsettling. Such an innocent setting for a horror film, and such an innocent horror as well. As one of the island inhabitants says as he's explaining what's happened, who can kill a child?
I thought the casting was pretty good. The couple look like a couple, like real people, not models turned actors. I loved Prunella's freckles, they made her more real, not covered up by make-up. The kids all seem to give natural performances, though they're not really called upon to do too much. Basically have fun. I'm not sure I'll look at a piñata the same way after watching this film.
The film opens not with the movie, but a collection of archival footage from various wars, inter-cut with the credits. The footage shows us the innocent children who suffer when adults go to war, with accompanying text giving the statistics of those who died in the conflicts, with the number of children often representing half the number. It was an interesting way to start the film, framing it in this way. It kind of dampens the mood when you're just after a bit of a fun night in front of the TV with some exploitation cinema, but it does give a context for what's happening in the film. In the extras on the disc, there is a small interview with the director, and he says he wishes he had ended the film with the sequence rather than opening with it, and I agree with him, but I guess it's too late now. But apart from the odd way for the film to open, it doesn't really make any other missteps. There's nothing that really stands out as bad or weak, it was all pretty good, with the standouts being the way it's shot and made, it's an incredibly well-crafted film, I think, and I highly recommend it.