32 MALASANA STREET (a.k.a. Malasana 32) *** Spain / France 2020 Dir: Albert Pinto. 104 mins
A story haunted by a horrific hate crime from another era, this Madrid-set chiller is effectively creepy and impressively downbeat, even if it treads on very familiar stylistic ground.
After an eerie opening involving two young boys, a runaway marble and a Hitchcockian old lady in a rocking chair, it unfolds in post-Franco Spain, circa 1976. A struggling family consider Madrid as the future and strive to overcome financial woes by starting a new life in the big city. While essaying another memorable antagonist, genre veteran Javier Botet plays the real estate agent ushering in retail worker Mum Bea Segura, her second husband Ivan Marcos, their grown up kids (Sergio Castellanos, Begona Vargas), Segura’s senile, ailing dad and a young son (Ivan Renedo) from her first marriage. The third floor apartment was suspiciously cheap and existing tensions are enhanced when they discover a few reasons why that’s the case.
Director Albert Pinto knows his way around a carefully constructed scare set piece and can time a solid jump scare. He riffs heavily on POLTERGEIST, as the TV and telephone become conduits for the supernatural and the little kid goes missing within the house. Good use is made of a convincingly creepy old TV puppet show that starts talking directly to young Renedo (like some unseen Gerry Anderson series broadcast from Hell) and vinyl records are used to sinister effect yet again. Between the paranormal manifestations (the best of which is a possessed sewing machine embroidering the word “slut”) is an authentic portrait of a family on the brink, having sunk everything into the house move and with no feasible way of moving out of an increasingly hostile domestic battleground.
The script cannily sews seemingly innocuous seeds early on that pay off with second half scares : a game of I Spy / Castellanos’ communication with a girl in the opposite apartment. It’s a shame that so much feels second hand: although the vividly realised sense to time and place is refreshing, it riffs frequently on well-known mainstream American horrors, losing some individuality in the process. The more overt frights and FX of the final third are less impactful than the build up – but it’s still a finely crafted, well acted picture with some bonafide chills.
Review by Steven West