A depressed concierge at an apartment complex in Spain makes it his life’s work to make his tenant’s lives as miserable as his, but one tenant in particular is incredibly jovial.
I’ve never quite seen a movie like this; it’s a movie that is incredibly unsettling from beginning to end. It’s a film that gives us a protagonist who is absolutely abhorrent, one that we want to see fail- yet he’s also a character that is incredibly intriguing (in a can’t-take-your-eyes-off-the-train-wreck sort of way). Cesar (Luis Tosar, “Take My Eyes”) our protagonist is a sociopathic, depressed concierge working at an apartment complex in Spain. He’s a man that believes he was born with the inability to be happy, and so he spends his days making sure that his tenants are as unhappy as he is. One tenant, Clara (Marta Etura, “Cell 211”), is particularly happy, and that drives Cesar crazy. He decides he’ll stop at nothing to ‘wipe that smile off her face,’ but as things begin to ramp up, he wonders if he might’ve gone too far.
“I can’t be happy. I never have been.”
The best aspects of this movie are the characters. At the start of the film, before anything really starts to happen, we watch Cesar go about his every day routine, and things, for the most part, feel normal, but there’s a tinge of underlying unease. Then, by fifteen minutes in, we learn how disturbed Cesar really is, and how he spends his nights. The way that Cesar is written is absolutely brilliant; he’s just disturbed enough that we feel the need to continue watching him as he sneaks around Clara’s apartment, chloroforms, and sleeps next to her. The first time I watched as Luis Tosar snuck out from under Clara’s bed gave me the same feeling sinking as watching Anthony Perkins hide Janet Leigh’s body in the swamp; I felt it in the pit of my gut. It was as genuinely disquieting moment. What’s better is that this is only our jumping off point; the film starts at a spot that is already incredibly creepy, and the story continues to build in terror and atmosphere for the remaining hour and twenty-five minutes.
The writing is another thing that really works well here. I haven’t ever seen a movie where the protagonist is bent on making other’s lives miserable simply for solidarities sake. It’s a very unique premise, and the way that it’s handled is incredibly intriguing. As I mentioned above, this film starts off in a rather disturbing way, but it always finds a way to continuously raise the stakes in the next scene. The sequences of more disturbing material maintain their tension for long stretches of time, and even more interesting is that there are scenes that somehow convince you to root for Cesar to not get caught in his actions. While Cesar isn’t a likable character, he’s devious enough that his character is completely captivating. The world that Jaume Balaguero (director) and Alberto Marini (screenwriter) have created together is one that feels rather real and flushed out. We get to know some of the other residents in the building and Cesar’s relationship to them (as well as his relationship with his mother, whom is now mute from a kind of sickness), we get a feeling for his day to day tasks and how he goes about trying to make things worse for others. The film slowly and deliberately ramps up tension as we approach the finale, but it never relies on jump scares or cheap thrills to keep the atmosphere going. From start to finish, this film is truly a tense ordeal that leaves you unsettled, but strangely satisfied.
This is one of the better psychological thriller/horror films I’ve reviewed for our 31 Nights of Thrills series. While the premise is rather simple, and the story is rather straightforward, this thriller manages to provide more horrific moments than many of the other straight up horror films I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s a smartly written film that is elevated by a wonderfully disquieting performance by Luis Tosar, an equally sympathetic performance from Marta Etura, and precise direction from Jaume Balaguero. If you’re into psychological thrillers, this is certainly one you’ll want to check out.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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