[Review] Claustrophobic Spanish chills in ‘The Hidden Face’
Author: Lisha Blackhurst
This inspiring Spanish/Colombian thriller falls into place neatly aligned with the other greats of the genre, and is easily comparable to Julia’s Eyes, The Orphanage and The Devil’s Backbone. With its mysterious narrative and luxurious cinematography, it is an excellent example of how Spanish cinema is really standing at the top of the game in the current market.
My advice for first viewing this film is to go into it blindly. I carry this theory with me throughout ALL my experience with thriller/horror films; if you can avoid watching the trailer, always do. Of course, we need a basic synopsis to gather whether we will take enjoyment from a movie, but trailers are far too often miniature versions of the films themselves, and reveal too much; and usually the best parts. Where you can, allow the film to do what it was intended to do most of all and build on atmosphere and tension to ultimately SCARE you. The Hidden Face is, like too many are, heavily let down by its marketing. As a film that relies profoundly upon ignorance to the plot twists in order to fully captivate its audience, the trailer’s clumsy edit destroys both the mystery and tension the film so expertly otherwise exploits.
The unravelling of this narrative is conveyed using the structure of a film in two halves. This dramatic irony, also effectively displayed in The Orphanage, is a popular narrative form within the genre. By using this method, the film then can rewrite what you thought you knew to be true about its story, and uses the second half of the story to flip the first over in and reveal it within a new satirical light. However, using a structure like this is often difficult and does have its flaws; during the first half of the film you are left unsure of the characters and their motives, as actions are left unexplained and open ended, leaving you struggling to connect fully with any of them for the opening thirty minutes. It is the character Belen’s introduction into the film that we see a turning point of both the plot and the empathy of the characters for the viewer. Played by Clara Lago, Belen is delightful and bright eyed, and impossible not to adore, meaning she both connects with her audience and then tugs agonisingly at the heart strings later in the story.
The movie is wonderful in that it is extremely subtle, only hinting at the supernatural without exposing the realistic events immediately, keeping you guessing on a broader scale throughout. The rational plot-line is extremely refreshing and this film doesn’t disappoint with a poor second half, much like that of many recent Western horror films released over the past few years. There are no cheap jump-scares here, just pure atmospheric thrills and a brilliantly innovative plot. A must see!