There’s something ultimately disappointing about the latest supernatural Spanish horror Hierro: it’s certainly stylishly shot and edited, its lead actress is impressive as a woman drained with grief and longing, and the plot is satisfyingly mysterious. However, as a film which has been boldly marketed as emanating “from the producers of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage“, one would expect a more resonant emotional kick.
Elena Anaya – previously seen as Vincent Cassel’s ferociously abused wife in the Mesrine (2008) double bill – plays a naive young mother, who begins a desperate search for her son after he disappears on a ferry. There’s little more one needs to know, and it’s a promising set-up, which clearly draws close comparison to J.A.Bayona’s The Orphanage – which is ultimately a far more rewarding film.
This isn’t to say that Hierro isn’t enjoyable. The film’s plot, as it becomes more and more convoluted (involving a cracked German teacher and other Wicker Man -esque figures) is gripping, the score surges forward powerfully – if sometimes a little too insistently – and director Gabe Ibanez has an involving sense of the surreal, conjuring one dream sequence reminiscent of Tarkovsky, slow-motion water falling upwards et al. He also clearly knows how to frame a shot, and his intelligent use of the vast 2.35:1 frame – particularly in shooting landscapes – helps highlight the loneliness and desolate melancholia present in his leading lady’s wide, gaunt eyes. And though the film is not downright ‘scary’, there are a handful of moments which are surprisingly chilling.
But come the climax, the film disappoints, as there is nothing to rival the heartbreaking and uplifting final scenes of The Orphanage. It may be that the film is possibly a little too long (even at 90 minutes) and struggles to fill that time without repeating itself or it may be that it needs its running time to be redistributed (more of mother and son at the start, less of the search?). Either way, it’s a worthwhile watch, but unfortunately I couldn’t fall in love with it in the same way as I did The Orphanage.