If your definition of a good horror film is one that both sickens and nauseates in equal measure, then Juanra Fernández’s debut feature and 2013 FrightFest select For Elisa (Para Elisa in the original Spanish) is for you. If, however, you possess even a modicum of good taste, then it’s unfortunately not. In order to attend an end of term holiday with her friends, student Ana (Ona Casamiquela) answers an advert on the university notice board for a carer for a mentally handicapped girl named Elisa (Ana Turpin). On arrival at Elisa’s home, Ana is greeted by the girl’s mother, Diamantina (Luisa Gavasa) who, though welcoming, nonetheless makes Ana feel uneasy from the very beginning.
Diamantina keeps her apartment in a state of down-at-heel bohemianism where, after her beloved daughter, pride of place is given to her exquisite collection of valuable antique dolls. Worse is to come however for the unfortunate Ana. Diamantina intends to trap her in the apartment, dressing and making her a living plaything for the entertainment of her deranged daughter – plan which can only end in tragedy for all involved. Falling somewhere between Misery (1990) and Boxing Helena (1993), For Elisa utilises the most cringeworthy elements of both of those films yet with none of the subtlety of either. Whereas even the most full-on horror movies generally attempt some element of reprieve from their inherent violence (if only to emphasise the worst when it actually happens), this one has no such delusions.
From the moment Ana enters the lair of the demented Diamantina all hope – for both her and the audience – is abandoned. After a few brief establishing scenes – simply there one feels because Fernández clearly thought he had to have an excuse to introduce the unrelenting violence which follows – For Elisa’s main body makes no pretence nor effort to excuse the sadistic streak which runs at its core. Often, as a critic, you feel an unspoken obligation to find at least one point in every film’s favour. Here, the only positive thing to highlight are the (admittedly) richly atmospheric scenes set in Diamantina’s sitting room where she endlessly plays Beethoven’s Für Elise for her daughter’s amusement. Sadly, this is one of only a small handful of redeeming features in an otherwise unnecessary exercise in unrelenting brutality.
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