Monday, January 13, 2014

6 Films To Keep You Awake (2008)

I didn't know anything going in to 6 Films To Keep You Awake (a good substitute, perhaps, for the discontinued 8 Films To Die For? -_^), but I learned soon enough that it is a collection of six Spanish horror films, that I think may be based on some older series, that possibly ran on television in Spain, called Films To Keep You Awake, or something similar. Regardless, I pretty much had zero expectations about these films, and wasn't sure what kind of quality they'd be, from hit-and-miss indies to solid genre staples, but I was generally impressed with the series and had a very good time watching them. Allow me to say a few things about each one. I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum.

1. La Culpa (a.k.a. Blame)

A single mother and her impossibly adorable little girl are taken in by the obstetrician (who runs an abortion clinic in her own home) she works as a nurse for. The female doctor's unwelcome advances, a devoutly religious neighbor, and a creepy attic, along with the subject of abortion and the anxieties that come with it, all contribute to a suspenseful atmosphere. But where this film is heavy on mystery, it is light on action. The story unfolds slowly, and while it teases some very disturbing implications (like what that little girl is carrying around in her tin box), it ultimately fails to come together in the end and deliver on its promise of being a pro-lifer's wet dream (which, for the rest of us, would make for a pretty chilling nightmare). It might keep you awake, but mostly for real-life psychological - and not scary, supernatural - reasons.

2. Regreso A Moira (a.k.a. Spectre)

Following the suicide of his wife, an old man returns to the small town of his youth, and reminisces about a relationship he had with an older woman the superstitious villagers all believed to be a witch, and that ended in tragedy. The details of that event are revealed piecemeal, and prove to be a rather intriguing mystery. The movie drags on a bit long, but it has a satisfying payoff. The last fifteen minutes or so had me perched on the edge of my seat - in more of a mental than an adrenal sort of way. Spectre is an exercise in subtlety, but it's pieced together very well. It serves as a textbook example of how to construct an effective atmosphere with scares that do not rely on loud noises and things springing at the screen from out of the shadows. I recommend it.

3. Adivina Quién Soy (a.k.a. A Real Friend)

A young girl with a fascination for the macabre carries her favorite movie monsters around with her like imaginary friends. But danger mounts when she meets a real life monster - a sociopath who takes advantage of her vivid imagination and easy embrace of the strange to infiltrate her home life. This movie accomplishes an impressive homage and imitation of several horror classics, namely Nosferatu, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Night of the Living Dead, and most especially The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. There is an element of surreality to it, that has you questioning what's real and what's imagined, but it all comes together in a twist ending that doesn't feel cheap, but actually suits the story. The actors' performances all contribute to the eerie atmosphere of the piece, including a subtle but delightful performance by the young Nerea Inchausti. I think I liked this one even more than Spectre.

4. Cuento de Navidad (a.k.a. A Christmas Tale)

Five kids find a Santa Claus impersonator trapped and lying unconscious in a ditch, and when they discover that she's a dangerous criminal, they decide to keep her as their secret pet (in the way that only 12 year old logic can do). But things go from bad to worse when a couple of the kids decide to imitate a voodoo ritual from a cheesy zombie flick (shot as a film within a film in a humorously over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek fashion). Directed by Paco Plaza of [Rec] fame, A Christmas Tale takes a comedic approach (and thus is more in line with [Rec] 3 than the original). The interactions between the kids, who all give natural performances, are fun to watch in a Goonies kind of way, but with more horror and less adventure. I'd say it's a good flick for a little bit of fun and some gross out, but it's not going to keep me awake at night.

5. La Habitación del Niño (a.k.a. The Baby's Room)

A young couple and their infant son move into an old house where they begin to pick up some paranormal phenomena on their baby monitor. At first thinking it's an intruder, the father's obsession with protecting his family may lead him to put them in grave danger instead. Halfway through the movie, you think you know exactly where it's headed, but to its credit, it goes off in another direction entirely, trading the conventional haunted house narrative for some speculation about parallel universes via a discussion of quantum physics (no fooling!), and the perils of opening a door between them. The Baby's Room utilizes some Paranormal Activity-like techniques, in a natural variation that lends itself to some humorous passages like when the father rigs up the house and then sits down behind a bank of baby monitors like a professional security guard. But even those scenes are played with a straight face, and the scares are pretty effective; I'd say this is probably the scariest movie yet in the series.

6. Para Entrar a Vivir (a.k.a. To Let)

An expectant couple meets a real estate agent to check out an apartment in what appears to be an abandoned building, when their visit turns into a real-time nightmare from which they can't escape. Directed by Jaume Balagueró, the other half of the creative team behind [Rec], To Let may be the most "conventional" horror movie in the series, but that doesn't mean it isn't any good. In fact, it's probably the best and most terrifying of the movies in this collection. It's not entirely free of horror cliches, but it balances them with style and substance and a very grueling pace, that avoids even finishing with a happy ending. There are some exciting twists along the way, and it is very much a tense movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It may not be as subtle or intellectual as some of the other titles, but it's a good, solid horror movie to fill out the collection, and is a welcome addition to the roster, as well as a great title to finish the series on.


  1. Interesting. The only one I've seen is A Christmas Tale. I felt the early portion of the film was disturbingly realistic in its portrayal of how unwittingly cruel kids can be, I mean a lot of kids simply don't understand how these things are supposed to work. Then they sort of dropped that thread and it became a straight up zombie fight but that was equally good in its own way.

  2. I read an interpretation on an IMDb thread that the woman didn't actually die and turn into a zombie until after the kids impaled her (only *thinking* she was a zombie) during the carnival chase. I didn't really view it that way, but it would lend more credence to the cruel, confused kids angle.