July 27, 2010

Shiver (2008)

(AKA Eskalofrío)

"Santi, a young high-school student with a serious physical reaction to sunlight, is forced by his health to move with his single mother to a shadowy, isolated village in the mountains of Spain where the inhabitants begin to reveal themselves as strangely xenophobic. When terrible, violent events begin to occur, Santi becomes first a pariah at school and then strongly suspected by the police of hideous murders. Santi himself, however, wonders if he is not the next victim."

It's lovely and cool at the moment, only 55 degrees rather than the days of high 90 degrees weather that we've been having lately, so it put me in mind of this Spanish film which I first watched two years ago according to my Netflix queue. It's not that the film has anything really to do with being cold or shivering, but I had to make a segue into it somehow.

Anyway, if you are lucky enough to still have a Windows operating system, you can watch "Shiver" online. I did precisely that on my laptop since I've long since swapped to Ubuntu on my desktop computer. I'd actually forgotten what a great little story it was and wonder why the hell I didn't review it at the time, but I think I know.

Back in late 2008, we suffered one of the biggest dearths of new horror movies for quite some time. The industry still hasn't completely picked up again yet either. So, like a lot of horror movie reviewers, I started looking round at what the other countries had to offer though it pretty much meant the death of my original website because nobody seemed all that interested. If it wasn't part of the French "extreme new wave" then nobody cared about it. Even "Let the Right One In" from Sweden got passed over by most people and I think only "The Orphanage" (also from Spain) got any real attention. I was so disgusted at how things were that I simply stopped writing reviews and just sat back enjoying watching movies for the last 18 months with no real desire to say anything about them to anybody. But things have changed, I have a new blog and enough time on my hands to write reviews again. So I'm going to go back over some of the little movies like this one which you may not have even heard of.

Firstly, "Shiver" is not a vampire movie. Although the lead character is set up with a few physical problems that would make you think the story is going to go that way, this is something different. It's more of a mystery than a horror film as such with a similar feel to it as "Disturbia". In fact, it did get criticised at the time for being a little bit too American, and I can to some extent agree. The way the characters interact with each other though is very European and, even if the village they are in does look like Forkes, this is certainly not another "Twilight".

What we have here is a teenager who is blamed, for reasons that become more evident later in the story, for murders which he did not commit simply because his health problems make him different. There's nothing like making a convenient scapegoat out of somebody when you are afraid, but there's a lot more to it than meets the eye.

You see our hero, Santi, doesn't take this lying down. He's already had a lifetime of being bullied, rejected and generally treated as an outsider by people. He realises that the only way to clear his name is to find the real murderer, and by so doing encourages the murderer to come after him. As Santi's nocturnal investigations continue, everyone he knows gets put in danger.

But what Santi discovers, in the big twist of the film, is that what he fears most out in the woods isn't what will do him harm. Exposing the cover-up and revealing the true story is what this is all about. Without spoiling it for you too much, the killer doesn't turn out to be at all who or what you think it is.

In spite of the twist, "Shiver" isn't an overly complex film and a lot of potential is wasted by not making more of Santi's medical condition. Of course, the red herring has a dual purpose as it was director Isidro Ortiz' purpose to turn "monsters" into heroes for reasons known only to himself, and Santi's otherness allows him to have a bond of sorts with another "monster" who is revealed far too early in the second half of the film.

The acting is generally pretty good too but the pace is so brisk most of the time that it doesn't really matter anyway. There is some lag occasionally as characters are bonded, and nobody really stands out apart from the lead. The characterisation suffers a lot because of the dialogue which is a result of trying to appeal to a younger audience rather than seasoned horror movie fans.

There are quite a few moments which are genuinely creepy but sometimes the building tension just comes to nothing which is frustrating. A lot of this is to do with bad editing, but I actually felt much the same way about "Disturbia" and "The Orphanage" in places. All these films feel censored even though there was nothing in them to censor in the first place. Maybe, in this case, it's just a Spanish thing.

The old "adults not believing the kids" scenario is also another annoying formula which again suggests that the target audience is really younger teens. Strangely this is an Unrated DVD not a PG-13 so I really can't work out why the horror is so toned down in some places and quite in your face in others. The final scene in particular is a great jump scare.

The general consensus seems to be that "Shiver" is one of the better Spanish horror films, although being in the tradition of "The Devil's Backbone", "Pan's Labyrinth" and "The Orphanage" does not mean that it is nearly as good as any of them. The film tried to go in too many directions at once in what looks like a desire to please everyone from slasher fans to the Twihards and it suffers from a lack of cohesion as a result. It's no good being a jack-of-all-trades because you end up being a master of none, as the saying goes.

Having noted the flaws, it's still an interesting film. It looks like "Twilight" in places, has a cosiness to it like "Fright Night", but ends up being something that "X-Files" fans would appreciate. Spain isn't really known for its horror movies and so it's no great surprise that "Shiver" isn't all that groundbreaking either. It's slightly below average yet a definite step in the right direction from fantasy to more realism in the Spanish horror genre.

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