The Bar (AKA. El Bar) centres on a group of unrelated urbanites who are reluctantly bound together in a downtown bar as an unknown threat lurks on the outside. The once bustling city of Madrid unexpectedly becomes a desolate zone, confining the remaining survivors to their secluded space.
With lack of phone signal and cryptic information from the local news station, it’s only a matter of time before panic and hysteria ensues. Will this group of polar opposites stick together or will their extraordinary circumstances see them turn on each other in a battle for survival?
Alex de la Iglesia’s (Day of the Beast, Witching and Bitching) latest horror/comedy feature is a fast paced, slick affair that guarantees nail biting tension, gallons of red herrings and plenty of action packed suspense to keep the audience on their toes.
The film opens to a cheery jazz infused score set to unpleasant imagery of bugs and bacteria, created with an X-Ray effect. There’s a trippy quality to it and while the music is worlds away from what is expected in horror, it’s contrast with the presented imagery sets the overall tone which mixes unrelenting tension with a witty, razor-sharp script. Iglesia and co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarría implement different layers of comedy within The Bar from slapstick action, farcical scenarios to more subtle comedic moments in the dialogue. There are some visual nuances in place which are sure to garner a few chuckles too
The overall premise of The Bar is a frequented ‘go to’ concept in horror but is made all the more enjoyable in the fact that it’s well executed and written. It’s strikingly unpredictable in the directions it takes. The viewer is placed on a constant knife edge and to a certain extent Iglesia’s effort here has reinvigorated the sub-genre for apocalyptic/survival horror. The threat itself isn’t explicitly revealed allowing the audience to play a guessing game alongside the characters.
Iglesia executes this trend well as he sustains gripping action and suspense with character drama all in the one setting. The dynamics of the characters are engaging enough, therefore looking for all the answers of what’s going on becomes secondary. Iglesia builds up a well thought out mystery which remains topical, especially the themes of media saturation, reliance on our devices and conspiracy theories and cover ups.
The Bar is an ensemble piece however there are two performances who really pull it out of the bag. Blanca Suárez (The Skin I Live In) plays high-rolling, unlucky in love but headstrong, Elena. She becomes embroiled in the nightmarish scenario following a quick coffee stop on the way to meet her internet date, who is sure to be Mr Right as he wears a Ramones t-shirt! Elena frequently takes charge of the situation in a desperate bid to survive despite all the chaos circulating her.
Jaime Ordóñez is screen-stealing as Israel, a grubby, homeless, reprobate Jesus-type figure who maddeningly reiterates biblical passages that share a common thread with the dystopian scenario that is taking place. He is a likeable rouge at the beginning but becomes a character to keep an eye on as the plot unfolds.
As The Bar progresses it transforms from aesthetically pristine to visually grimy with one sequence echoing back to Dario Argento’s Phenomena (1985). The tension rapidly mounts and doom continues to lurk with the overall aesthetic reflecting a cesspit of despair.
The Bar is a twisted, quirky thriller that takes ‘survival horror’ to enthralling, new heights. It cleverly keeps the threat itself at arm’s length and therefore foregrounds the sense of fear and panic through the characters. It’s a hostage situation without a clear-cut captor which makes the situation all the more terrifying. The ambiguity works to the film’s strengths, leaving the audience to decide who or what are they afraid of. It’s refreshing when the notion of the terror isn’t blatantly spelled out especially when it’s done this well.
Balancing Horror and Comedy is no easy feat but Iglesia manages this effortlessly while presenting a story that is contemporary and plays on recent societal fears of terrorism. The Bar is a pressure cooker that builds and builds to a satisfying effect.
The Bar receives its UK Premiere at Horror Channel’s Frightfest on Saturday the 26th August, 11:15am on the Arrow Video Screen.