Shrew's NestFestival program writers and film reviewers have been rather free in comparing the new Spanish horror movie Musarañas (Shrew’s Nest) with Misery, the 1990 feature that presented Kathy Bates as an obsessed fan tormenting her favorite novelist, James Caan. Yes, there is a man held captive through much of Shrew’s Nest, but the best point of comparison is not the excellent Stephen King adaptation directed by Rob Reiner from a screenplay by William Goldman that focused on celebrity obsession and fan expectations that straightjacket artists who try to break from type. There was zero sexual tension in Misery between Bates and Caan, except for those who consider ankle breaking a form of foreplay. Shrew’s Nest, by contrast, is heavy with sexuality, even if unfulfilled or absolutely forbidden.

That makes it closer to a 1971 Clint Eastwood flick that is often forgotten: The Beguiled. In that one, Clint is a Union soldier during the U.S. Civil War who takes refuge in a Southern girls boarding school only to become the rope in a sexual tug of war between teachers and students. The Southern gothic horror tone and substance of The Beguiled matches up nicely with the Spanish gothic terror approach in Shrew’s Nest. However, gothic horror is, by nature, a slow burn sub-genre, and filmmakers Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel abuse the privilege with a script that takes too long to get where the audience knows it is going.

Two sisters share a Madrid apartment in the early 1950’s. The older, Montse (Macarena Goméz) is crippled by agoraphobia so severe that it does not allow her to pass through the front door of the large, stylish flat that also serves as her dressmaking studio. The younger sibling (Nadia de Santiago) has just come of age and works in a shop that takes her out every day into a world that is closed to Montse, a world that includes men. The split between the two sisters widens when Montse spies her sister on the street with a young man, but then providence drops a potential suitor in the apprentice spinster’s lap. The upstairs neighbor, Carlos (Hugo Silva), falls while carelessly fleeing from his apartment and his life and winds up on the landing outside the women’s flat with a broken leg.

Montse is many things – a nut job who is heckled by the ghost of her dead father chief among them – but she’s no skilled medical care provider. The “setting” for Carlos’s injured limb is positively medieval, but nothing a few drops of morphine can’t overcome. The question becomes not so much one of escape, but survival as detectives and a jilted fiancé search for Carlos, Montse works to find a cure for her phobia, and the younger sister schemes with the prisoner. The restraint of the early going in which a scratch on the younger sister’s face reveals just a slight pinkish line of blood dissolves into an absolute blood fest, featuring copious amounts of the thick, red stuff that splashes throughout the apartment.

The superb Spanish writer/director Álex de la Iglesia served as the executive producer for Shrew’s Nest, and while he brought in a few actors from his last fantastic film, Witching and Bitching (the raccoon-eyed Goméz, handsome leading man Silva, and a cameo appearance by de la Iglesia’s lovely wife, Carolina Bang), he should have lent a bit of his trademark frenetic energy as well. The mise-en-scène is superb; the pace is not. Despite going through 10 drafts in six years, according to introductory remarks by Andrés and Roel prior to a showing at the London Film Festival, the screenplay still needs work.

By the time the movie makes its way to the final reveal, the audience has been already been patiently waiting there for 30 minutes. “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown,” is no consolation for the delay.

Two stars.

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