Hierro (2009)

Spanish film is finally establishing itself on the global cinema map, and it seems that horror is fast becoming one of their strong points.

Both Rec and Rec 2 have impressed and The Orphanage has received much praise. And now Hierro. This thriller horror, directed by Gabe Ibáñez is another excellent example of what our friends in the Mediterranean are capable of.

When single mother Maria takes her only child, Diego on short holiday they’re both excited. The little boy hasn’t been on a ferry before and they both look forward to the adventure ahead.
However, during the boat trip she falls asleep in a seat and when she wakes, Diego is no longer playing in kiddies area. As she searches for him, she becomes desperate and as the ferry arrives at it’s destination, a small Island called El Hierro, the emergency services are called to scour the area for the child.

Diego is never found and Maria is understandably left broken. She loses interest in her job and can’t sleep for nightmares plague her mind.

When a boy’s body is found in the sea, Maria and her sister go back to El Hierro to identify the body. And when they realise that the body doesn’t belong to Diego the sisters are asked to stay on the island for a few days to take part in a legal process of some sort.

Being on the island again intensifies Maria ‘s feelings. She is reminded of her initial suspicion that Diego was in fact abducted by someone on the ferry and so sets about investigating the island and its unusual selection of residents.

What follows is a gripping journey upon which Maria discovers some disturbing things including the whereabouts of her son.

Hierro is a truly haunting experience. Emotional from the offset, the film is thick with suspicion, twisted visions and ominous atmosphere.
Although in Spanish language (with subtitles) the dialogue seems barely necessary as the story is conveyed so well with images and the outstanding performances by the cast. Ibáñez’s choice to cast Elena Anaya as the lead is quickly validated as she engages the viewer immediately and puts in a faultless performance as a woman on the brink of grief-driven madness.

And the techniques to give the impression of that madness are expertly applied.
Maria’s nightmares and visions are jerky and disorientating. In one particular scene she is watching a late night cookery programme and as she dozes, the images and sounds on screen become a horrible montage, reminiscent of the odd video in The Ring.
Back on the island both Maria and the audience have a hard time telling what is real and what isn’t, and it’s this dizzying effect that gives Hierro such a strong presence.

Special effects are used sparingly and expertly, the acting performances are of a very high standard and Ibáñez’s Hitchcock-inspired style is exciting and near faultless. There is little to complain about.

What is striking is that a vast majority of the European material that has arrived at Love horror over recent months has been of a very high caliber. Especially when compared to much of the material that we have received from the states.
It seems that what European horror lacks in budget and reputation, it is more than making up for with originality and imagination. As the US market seems happy to keep spewing out the predictable commecial vehicles that the horror market is saturated in, it’s film makers on this side of the atlantic that are doing the innovating.
It’s a situation that can only be healthy for the film industry as a whole.

For a haunting, thrilling and emotional experience, Hierro is an excellent choice and standard bearer for Spanish cinema.

Movie Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

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