5 Spanish Directors You May Not Have Heard Of
It’s become commonplace to claim that some of the best genre filmmaking nowadays comes from Asia. But the world is a big place, and there are many other places where one can go for a dose of thrills, chills, and spills. Spain is an excellent place to start.
One need look no further than Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes), or the directing duo of Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, who gave us one of the finest entries in the “found footage shaky cam” genre with Rec and its sequel; and of course, there’s Alex de La Iglesia, whose own particular brand of off-the-wall weirdness puts him in a category all of his own.
However, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Spain has a whole cabal of directors toiling away on genre films. Some are just starting out, others are a little more seasoned, and all of them show a great appreciation for movies. Here are five directors (actually, six) worth checking out, just to get you started.
28 year-old Carles Torrens made his name in short films before premiering his first full-length feature, Emergo, at the Sitges Film Festival in 2011. It is yet another entry into the found footage genre, a minimalist piece set entirely in a small apartment with a trio of paranormal researchers staying with a single dad and his two kids while investigating a supposed haunting.
Also known as Apartment 143, this is one movie that certainly delivers in the “jump scares” department. Funnily enough, despite having objects move around by themselves and ghosts popping up, the supernatural elements still take a back seat to what is really a domestic drama; this is one seriously screwed up family we’re dealing with here.
Written by Rodrigo Cortés, the same guy who gave us 90 minutes of Ryan Reynolds in a coffin; in Buried; passed up the directing reins in favour of his second Hollywood project, Red Lights; a stroke of luck for Torrens, who manages to keep his film fresh within a genre that can get stale pretty quickly. Carles recently completed the short film Sequence, starring screenwriter Marcus Dunstan.
Morales’ first film, The Uninvited Guest, was a classically-made, slow-burn psychological thriller dealing with themes of loneliness, isolation, and obsession. This makes Morales an alumni of the Hitchcock school of suspense; in fact, a mid-film turn of events easily reminds one of Scottie Ferguson’s unhealthy obsession in Vertigo.
The director’s next film was Julia’s Eyes, co-written with Oriol Paulo, a director in his own right with 2012’s The Body. Like its predecessor, it’s another psychological thriller where Belén Rueda plays a woman investigating the apparent suicide of her blind sister while she herself is losing her eyesight. Hitch himself would have been proud of this one, a story with many unpredictable twists, which goes off on so many tangents, it’s hard to figure out where it’s headed.
Morales claims to be a fan of 70s genre cinema, having referred to Eyes as a “feminist giallo.” That influence certainly shines through; his is an elegant, classic style of filmmaking which is rarely seen nowadays.
“Saw for intelligent people.” That’s what some reviews called Fermat’s Room, the debut film from the writing-directing team of Piedrahita and Sopeña, who had mostly worked in television before hitting the big screen in 2007. The description makes sense, though this movie is not as nihilistic or brutal as the Father of Torture Porn.
Borrowing its basic premise from Vincenzo Natali’s Cube, it follows four mathematicians having to solve complex logic puzzles to escape a room which is slowly closing in on itself. The reasons behind the foursome’s imprisonment don’t always make total sense, but both directors manage to keep you on your toes by constantly coming up with surprises, which is explained by Piedrahita’s background as an award-winning magician.
You don’t have to be a Hawking-type genius to understand what’s going on, though it helps; the puzzles and math problems fly quickly here, and some are so elaborate you’re better off just going along for the ride. Piedrahita and Sopeña certainly did their homework in regards to mathematics and their history; this is a smart movie, and, unusual for a horror/thriller one, with smart protagonists.
Carlos Theron is clearly a Guy Ritchie fan. Look no further than last year’s Impávido, a full-length expansion of a short made five years earlier. Like Ritchie, Theron takes us on a humorous tour of the seedy underbelly of Spain, in a twisty story centred on a bank robbery and a very special game of cards: who can keep the best poker face while receiving head under the table?
This is a stylish and fun film populated with quirky characters, from a hapless car thief with the world’s worst lucky streak, a mildly autistic kid who’s also a crack shot, and a crime boss with a short fuse who’s so badass, “he could invade Poland using a toothpick.” He’s also played by real life pornstar Nacho Vidal; when he threatens his minions with painful cavity searches, you know he means it.
Impávido is worth checking out if you like hip crime films. Theron also made one earlier movie, a teen comedy called Brain Drain 2, featuring David Hasselhoff in a small role; anything featuring The Hoff poking fun at himself is an automatic watch.
Cerdá is probably one of the highest-profile filmmakers on this list. The Abandoned debuted at the After Dark Horrorfest in 2006, and due to being named the Fan Favourite, was re-released in theatrs a year later.
Co-written with cult director Richard Stanley of Hardware and Dust Devil fame, it’s a slice of creepy Lynchian weirdness, with a woman visiting her childhood home in Russia to learn about her past and encountering, among other things, a ghostly doppelganger of herself with all-white eyes and man-eating pigs. Even if it makes no sense at times, Cerdá manages to wring some tense atmosphere from the whole thing, along the way making the Soviet countryside look so isolated and alien you might as well be on a different planet.
Elsewhere, Cerdá also directed a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of Brad Anderson’s The Machinist for its DVD release; and he was also one of the many directors suspected of being the man responsible for the “alien autopsy” video supposedly recovered from Area 51, which managed to be ten times more disturbing than any horror film.