Thursday, August 05, 2010

A Review of "Hierro" (Ibáñez, 2010)

Director: Gabe Ibáñez
Starring: Elena Anaya, Miriam Correa, Kaiet Rodríguez
Grade: C -

Written for Subtitled Online:

Like the starkness of a “missing” poster Gabe Ibáñez’s "Hierro" immediately seeks to hook an audience and serve a purpose, the underwater submergence in its eerie opening a nod to the natural mystic. The commonalities of recent thrillers involving absent youths suggest a struggle between practicality and supernature; can children really just vanish? While the reality, of course, is that many of the missing are never traced, "Hierro" imitates forays into this burgeoning sub-genre (The Forgotten, The Dark, The Orphanage, to name but a few) by entertaining the notion of the mother-son bond as transcendent of physical relativity.

"Hierro" is immediately complicated by the repetition of similar instances of mothers entering into consciousness -- from a car accident and deep sleep, respectively -- to find their sons nowhere to be seen. The latter of the two forms the basis of the film as María (Elena Anaya) wakes from her slumber on a ferry bound for the island of El Hierro and panics that her son Diego may have been kidnapped, or worse, drowned. Divers come up empty and three years pass before the discovery of a body brings María back there, where she is asked to identify the corpse. Revealing that it is not Diego the circumstances of her return to the island encourage María to ponder whether her son may still be alive somewhere, and when she thinks that she sees him on a deserted beach her mindset alters to accommodate an investigative instinct.

What of this mother-son bond then? Julianne Moore, Naomi Watts, Maria Bello, and Belen Rueda have all recently played distraught maternal figures attempting to track down their offspring by whatever means – usually to the extent of at least recognising what has happened to them. There’s a sense of atonement in their actions, that by contravening authority they become grown-up children themselves, that they are somehow behaviourally complicit, closer to relating to the people they have raised. We don’t really get the opportunity to gauge whether the guilt in María has set in at first, since the film skips forward in time rather abruptly after Diego becomes officially lost. It begs the question: what has María been doing in the three years that have passed? Why is she now suddenly demanding a resolution?

Fascinating as they are, neither the film nor an occasionally dynamite Anaya can fully address these queries, which are consigned to the backburner for the showier tendencies of director Ibáñez. The early premonitory announcement by Diego to his mother that he doesn’t like hide and seek, “because you might not find me”, is an early sign that Ibáñez is eager to plug the sinister undertones of the narrative. It proves alarmingly destructive in quelling the sensitivity of "Hierro"’s themes, as he overworks the production with incessant aural shock-tactics and saturates the mise-en-scene with revelrous flash-camera frippery. His attempts to allude to the mythical elements of the island, and mystery surrounding the whereabouts of Diego, extend to the kind of rash eventualities that see a maintenance man fish a doll’s head out of a blocked toilet. Even a shower sequence designed to demonstrate María’s cleansing of guilt, the final phase of her post-ferry grief, is so strobe-distorted that it’s borderline unwatchable. Pushing this overt brand of macabre creepiness detracts from the interesting socio-realist angle offered, María’s bitter desperation recalling shades of last year’s Katalin Varga, a film that chronicled a brewing sense of vengeance in its heroine.

It enables us to register with the dread of having our sense of scope rendered foolish, that we aren’t omniscient and that questions can’t always be answered, but cajoles us by confirming some of María’s suspicions about El Hierro and its inhabitants. During María’s quest for answers she boards a trailer and proceeds to have a violent face-off with the woman on board it, a scene which indebts itself to Tarantino’s Kill Bill and marks a shift in direction for the film. For periods the film is as dark and captivating as this scene, and Anaya’s presence carries it through even its most absurd revelations, but while often suggested that mortality is a less ambiguous state than rationale, the focus is placed more on plot than character. María’s grief is undermined by the gratuity of this stand-off, and the fetishisation of her as a powerhouse would-be-killer reinforces the sense that "Hierro" has become somewhat of a joyless spectacle.

Considering the emotional weight of the first act there is little organic about the way that the film is put together. Ibáñez, while essentially “generous” appears bound by influence, and heavy-handed with the more uncertain aspects of the story. "Hierro" benefits from the debilitating sparseness of the landscape, but is too compact as a narrative, and suffers from the many brazen efforts to generate suspense. A sombre lullaby over the closing credits may act as sonar relief at the end of a tiresome ordeal, but it’s only the cherry atop a stylistic mound of confection. Sometimes less is more.

1 comment:

Natalie Schiavi said...

great reviews, definitely going to watch this one