Home and religion have always been intertwined as they offer sanctuary from the horrors of the outside world. In Shrew’s Nest, directors Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel turn this notion on its head. Home is not a place of refuge, but a coffin. A place where the all seeing eye of God does not offer repentance, but silently observes as individuals become consumed with the sins of the past and present.
On the surface, it is easy to throw out comparisons to Misery when talking about Shrew’s Nest. Both films involve a man, in this case Carlos (Hugo Silva), who finds himself held captive by a slightly, to put it mildly, off-kilter female. While infatuation and torture eventually become tangled, that is pretty much where the comparisons end. Shrew’s Nest takes on an exhilarating and crazy – and I mean this in the best possible way – life of its own. This is not a tale about Carlos, but rather a portrait of two sisters on a collision course.
At the center of the film is Montse (Marcarena Gómez), a reclusive seamstress who suffers from a severe case of agoraphobia. The problem is so bad that she needs to take morphine just to calm the panic attacks. Unable to take even one step out of her apartment without throwing up, Montse has spent most of her time and energy raising her younger sister (Nadia de Santiago), who has just turned eighteen. A devoted Catholic, who is haunted by events of the past, Montse finds it difficult to accept that her baby sister is now a woman who likes to go out and chat with boys. The sisterly dynamic becomes further complicated when Carlos, the neighbour upstairs, takes a tumble down the stairs and winds up at Montse’s front door.
Fearful of the stranger, but conflicted by her Christian duty to help those in need, Montse takes Carlos in to nurse him back to health. At least that is what she tells herself. After her attempt to keep Carlos’ presence a secret from her sister fails, the two sisters engage in a dangerous game of trying to win the ailing man’s affection. What neither of them know is that Carlos has a few secrets of his own that will send everyone, especially Montse, into a dangerous tailspin.
Taking place primarily in Montse’s apartment, there are only three scenes entirely outside the building and they all are viewed through Montse’s window, Shrew’s Nest creates a richly claustrophobic atmosphere. The tension is heightened by the brilliant use of sound in the film. Every creek and slight movement is intensified as the audience, similar to her younger sister, wonders if Montse will take notice. The apartment is both Montse’s nest and punishment, she knows every inch of the place and is unforgiving to any wayward fly that get tangled in her web.
When the tension reaches a point that even the seamstress can no longer stitch it back together nicely, and things fly out of control, it becomes clear why famed Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia (The Last Circus) opted to produce the film. Despite its measured build up, when Shrew’s Nest lets loose the film is truly a wild ride. It has the right blend of thrills, horror and dark comedy to get the heart rate pumping. However, it is the drama between the sisters that is the key to keeping the film from veering off the deep end.
While Andrés and Roel craft a top-notch thriller, it is Marcarena Gómez’s wonderfully disturbed turn as Montse that leaves the greatest mark on the film. Gómez encapsulates so many emotions and themes that it is hard to believe that she is known more for her comedic work in the Spanish film industry. As Montse, she captures the awkwardness of a woman coming to terms with her own sexuality, the complexity of faith in the face of evil, and the ruthlessness that comes with crossing the point of no return.
The perfect film to watch after a long day at the office, Shrew’s Nest is an invigorating thriller that audiences will not easily forget.
Sunday, September 14, 6:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Ticket information can be found at the TIFF website.