Nothing would quite prepare you for this dark, macabre story set in Spain of the 1950s. What begins as a quiet, but unsettling exploration of a not-so-perfect sisterhood soon turns into a disturbing, explosive tale of blood-soaked murder and mayhem, the kind of stuff nightmares are made of.
A freaky looking seamstress, Montse (Macarena Gómez) resides with her much younger sister (Nadia de Santiago). Montse suffers from a psychological disorder, possibly a form of agoraphobia, that prevents her from stepping outside her door. For years, the god-fearing, religiously devout Montse has lived within the confines of her moderate apartment and raised the sister single-handedly, for their mother died while giving birth to the younger one, and their controlling father left them for the war and never returned.
Montse's hard life and illness has clearly taken a toll on her being, something she manages to hide from her patrons, in particular, the kindly Dona Puri (Gracia Olayo). The sister doesn't like her domineering ways, but does not have much choice, for they only have each other as family, and all said and done, she owes it to Montse for taking care of her all along.
Chance brings a stranger to their door, a handsome young neighbour (Hugo Silva) residing upstairs, who seeks help at Montse's door after falling down some stairs. A reluctant Montse lets him in, and nurses him. His arrival creates ripples in the scheme of things, especially after Montse's altruism gradually takes malevolent form.
"Shrew's Nest" (2014), the title alludes to the way of life of certain rat species who hide away in underground burrows far away from other animals. They appear harmless but also possess some venomous glands. The lead character Montse is somewhat similar. In fact, this film is more a showcase of this woman's strange psychosis. She is quite protective of her sister and has raised her with care, despite her troubled state of mind. However, one glimpse of the sister with a boy invites her wrath and the girl is punished with a cane!
This wrath is much more than a product of mere protectiveness, as shades of jealousy are also seen in this woman deprived of any kind of healthy relationship with a man. The evidence of a life ruined under the shadow of a tyrannical father (Luis Tosar, in yet another chilling performance) is unearthed in the form of flashbacks that meld with Montse's present reality in intelligently filmed scenes that blur the line between hallucinations and memories. Her general attitude towards certain things hint at a stringent adherence to religious beliefs, but her views are definitely muddled and it is easy to see why.
We also learn that perhaps her agoraphobia stems from being denied the freedom to go out of the house from an early age. Montse is a character portrait that simultaneously evokes feelings of sadness as well as resentment. Montse's current existence is the unfortunate result of a family tragedy and subsequent affected upbringing. This plot development is not without some usual cliches associated with justifying the mental instability of certain dangerous characters in cinema, but somehow the handling of Montse's character is much more sensitive and hence perhaps, far more believable. She is a victim as well as a perpetrator at the same time, thereby making it difficult for the viewer to take sides. Macarena Gómez portrays Montse with a rare sincerity, in an act that is the backbone of this film. She delivers a powerful performance, that's aptly over-the-top and fitting the behavioural pattern; exactly the kind of reactive, nervous wreck that Montse is expected to be.
The root cause of the situation in the film is the neighbour, Carlos played by Hugo Silva. His predicament brings obvious memories of Rob Reiner's "Misery" (1990). He is no James Caan, but with whatever material the script offers him, he puts up a decent performance. Carlos also harbours a secret, and the events leading up to his falling down the stairs are revealed much later, again somewhat ruffling up viewer perceptions. The introduction of a character closely related to him leads to a major shift in the events and some very heart-stopping moments.
The ultimate onus is left with the younger sister who has to cope with something much more than what her sister has unleashed. The situation gets out of hand in the third act and we enter a territory that is darkly comic, violent and gory as hell! Surprises are thrown at the viewer at various junctures, although there is one major twist that one can see coming. No harm is done, however, to the momentum or the overall quality of the picture in any way.
"Shrew's Nest" is another solid offering from Spanish horror. This is delicious, wicked fun at its best; thrilling enough for anyone to have a bloody good weekend.