AUGUST 21, 2010
Being a big fan of the [Rec] films and To Let, and so far finding Fragile to be the only Fangoria Frightfest title worth a damn, I figured I'd check out Jaume Balagueró's debut feature, The Nameless (Spanish: Los Sin Nombre), which had been recommended a few times over the years to boot. But while I didn't dislike the film, I wasn't as engaged by it as his others, and I can see why Dimension never gave it a big release - it doesn't have the same commercial appeal as his other films.
For one thing it's very slow, and needlessly so. I'm all for an atmospheric slow burn, but this is slow, slow... and then BAM! the ending practically comes out of nowhere. As the time counter hit 90 minutes (of a 100 minute movie) I was baffled how everything could be over so soon, based on where we seemingly were in the story. We are introduced to a few agents from a mysterious "Agency" who disappear almost instantly, two of our lead characters are killed simultaneously and without any buildup, and the main bad guy just spouts a bunch of nonsense all at once, gets killed, and the movie ends. The film was based on a book by Ramsey Campbell, which I haven't read, but I got the impression it was being very faithful up until the 85 minute mark or so, and then they realized that they had a lot of book to cover but only had another 15 minutes to finish it.
Worse, the bad guy turns out to be someone we saw only briefly in the film's opening scenes, and almost always in wide or dark shots - if not for the home movie flashback inserts, I probably would have had to have looked up who he was. And this is part of the movie's overall main problem - the antagonists never really provide any threat. It's not until the final reel that we even see any of them, and they do pretty much all of their damage off-screen. At one point it seems like they are going to break into our heroine's apartment and wait for her to come home, but instead they just kill her ex boyfriend (off-screen) and leave his corpse for her to find.
Also, why do they go to this much trouble? The movie essentially boils down to the mother of a missing girl following clues to discover where they are keeping her, but then you find out they had planted all of the clues themselves. So not only does their entire plan depend on her puzzle-solving skills (maybe they found out she was a big Myst fan or something?), it also doesn't seem to serve any purpose. You take a plot like Die Hard 3, where Irons is making Bruce run around the city solving riddles, but it was all a diversion. Here there doesn't seem to be any diversion; it seems like they could have just called her and said "hey come to this address" and saved themselves (and us) a heap of time.
It doesn't help that she's kind of an annoying character. Granted her daughter was taken from her and it's caused the meltdown of her marriage and mental sanity (she pops a lot of undefined pills), but she comes across as a pain in the ass, and even sounds crazy when she's describing stuff we saw happen. Luckily, her "partner" is played by Karra Elejalde, who you may recognize as Hector from Timecrimes. I'm a fan of this guy's acting, and he gets the best scenes in the movie, investigating her clues and tips despite not being on the force anymore. There's an odd little scene where he visits an old friend on the force who is investigating an accident at the local fun park (a girl flew off the ride) - it's the rare scene in the film that has a little personality; the rest is just standard procedural/people dealing with grief stuff that we've all seen a million times, and usually better.
And like all serial killer procedurals from the past decade or so, there's a bit of Seven and Silence of the Lambs in here; the former in the first scene, where they find a girl's body, which has been burned beyond any recognition, in a dark, leaky area during a rainstorm - seems like any scene out of Fincher's film. And Silence mentally comes up when they visit a guy who was/is part of the cult that they believe to be responsible for the girl's disappearance. Like the main bad guy at the end, he mostly just rambles a bunch of exposition, but it's a tense scene all the same, and he's one creepy looking dude.
But despite all its story/pacing issues, Balagueró makes it all watchable - the guy can make an infomercial for checking accounts look interesting, as far as I'm concerned. The few suspense scenes are terrifically staged, as is the climactic showdown. And he does a fine job of keeping all three main characters (there's also a reporter trying to solve the case) balanced and developed enough to make each of their personal agendas fairly interesting. Even when things got slow, or Claudia got on my nerves, I wanted to see where the story would go. But like I've said before (and I'm not the only one), the ending of the film is what forms your final impression of it, and ultimately the ending didn't make the rest of the film worth the wait. Perhaps the book has a greater sense of menace and some more clarification why they were making her jump through these hurdles? Anyone read it?
The DVD is as barebones as they come; not even a trailer. One thing I will praise - the subtitles seem to be not dumbed-down, like many other foreign films (remember the Let The Right One In debacle?). I turned on both the subs and the English dub, and it was word for word identical. Now, for all I know the dubbers just read off the subtitles, but let's try to be optimistic, yeah? I ended up going back to the Spanish language track, however - for some reason, the dubbing for the male characters was fine, but the females were very stiff and unnatural.
I rented Balagueró's English language debut Darkness on DVD when it first came out, but I can't remember anything about it (I think I slept through a good chunk of it, actually); I'm not even sure if I watched the edited version or not. But the thing I liked most about the films I mentioned at the top of the review was that they had crackerjack pacing, and the only thing I DO remember about Darkness was that it was slow. So I'm undecided if I'll revisit it. I still think he's a great talent, but this isn't the one I'd recommend to someone looking to see their first film from him.
What say you?