Director: Esteban Roel, Juanfer Andres
Writer: Juanfer Andres, Sofia Cuenca
Producer: Alex de la Iglesia, Carolina Bang, Kiko Martinez
Stars: Macarena Gomez, Nadia de Santiago, Hugo Silva, Luis Tosar, Gracia Olayo, Lucia de la Fuente, Carolina Bang, Silvia Alonso
A young woman discovers that her agoraphobic sister is secretly using their apartment to fulfill a strange obsession with an injured neighbor.
Since the death of her mother and subsequent disappearance of her father, Montse’s all-consuming sadness has perpetually plagued her in the form of paralyzing agoraphobia. Her psychological pain has in turn condemned the Spanish seamstress to a life sentence of despondency spent confined in her flat while numbed by a daily dose of self-administered morphine.
Montse’s unnamed younger sister, referred to directly as “honey” or indirectly as “the girl,” shares her sibling’s apartment, but not her emotional afflictions. As Montse wallows in desperate depression, clinging to hope that Christian prayers might redeem her self-worth, the girl sees her worldview widening with the promise of love, opportunity, and freedom.
On the arrival of the girl’s 18th birthday, Montse is forced to confront the reality that her sister’s presence is not permanent. Fearful that her isolated environment with a population of two is inching closer to subtracting a denizen, Montse’s mania starts manifesting in the form of haunting visions of a disapproving father, further heightening her eternal anxiety. So when a serendipitous slip down the stairwell brings an injured neighbor directly to her door, Montse spies a twisted solution to filling the vacancy left by her distancing sister, as well as the one created by the sanity exiting her mind.
Opening on a narrated flashback of bedtime stories told during childhood, “Shrew’s Nest” starts as a seeming “once upon a time” fairy tale of two sisters. Set in postwar Spain around the 1950s, the movie takes its time unwrapping exposition, focusing firmly on the relationship between Montse and the girl as they spin at their sewing machines, solemnly converse over the breakfast table, or reminisce reverently about a mother hardly known. The first leg of the film steps forward so softly as to barely be heard, setting the stage for a quiet character study that could classify “Shrew’s Nest” as a slow burn thriller if it weren’t pointing in an altogether opposite direction from what happens next.
Having lulled the audience into expecting a narrow, psychological period piece with only room temperature heat, first-time feature filmmaking team Esteban Roel and Juanfer Andres take off the kid gloves at the act change and send “Shrew’s Nest” careening through bloody bedlam at a breakneck pace. Following the introspective introduction, Montse’s channeling of her inner Annie Wilkes sets off a snowballing chain of events that has her and her sister scrambling to keep up, with the audience losing its own collective breath right there alongside them.
From Luis Tosar as the menacing specter of Padre to Hugo Silva as the hobbled but charming object of different desires, no supporting player goes unnoticed. Each cast member is dialed in to delivering the precise mood called for by each scene, whether it be earnest interchanges, dropped-jaw horror, or finely tuned pinches of barely-there dark comedy.
Although “Shrew’s Nest” presents a portrait of a pair, and actress Nadia de Santiago more than holds up her half of the weight as the girl, Macarena Gomez’s marvelous mastery over the complicated character of Montse is the performance stealing the spotlight. Gomez’s grim pout and tear-welling wide eyes on a soft-featured face draw empathy and sympathy in measures equal to the desire for her misdeeds to meet their comeuppance. No matter the moment, Gomez embodies psychosis, pity, heartbreak, and demented delirium in singular scenes that uncharacteristically cast Montse as both hero and villain, with the viewer delightedly torn on exactly which layer deserves the most attention.
Contained almost entirely inside a single apartment and its adjacent hallway/stairwell, “Shrew’s Nest” keeps itself compact and tightly focused on serving up a ferociously explosive climax once the plotline kicks into top gear. Stick with it. Although bookended by a stuffy ramp up and a telegraphed twist at the conclusion, “Shrew’s Nest” runs full speed at an exhilarating sprint once the tempo turns a corner, justifying the journey to get there as being worth the wait.
NOTE: The film’s Spanish title is “Musaranas.”
Review Score: 80