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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 09.21.21] Spain thriller

Irene's life isn't exactly idyllic. At 15, she's living in a juvenile detention facility, and to complicate matters, she discovers that she's pregnant. Desperate to turn her life around, she strikes a deal with Javier, a teacher at the facility that offers to help her escape and look after her for the duration of the pregnancy. In exchange, Javier wants Irene's baby. She gratefully agrees: she's 15 and not interested in a baby.

And so The Daughter opens with police searching for a runaway all the while Irene is hiding out at Javier and his wife Adela's remote home. The couple continuously remind Irene that they're putting themselves in great danger by helping the teen and while at first the threats of going back to jail are effective, the further she gets into her pregnancy, the more defiant Irene becomes and almost as if in retaliation, the more restrictive her confinement becomes until eventually, something has to give.

Writer/director Manuel Martin Cuenca is no stranger to thrillers and the The Daughter is a natural extension of his previous films; a thriller that is not afraid to take its time to develop and unfold. Cuenca provides just the right amount of information at each turn to keep the audience guessing and while we get to see the drama unfolding from both sides, it never quite prepares us for the gut-punch of an unexpected ending.

Cuenca and cinematographer Marc Gomez del Moral make great use of the remote location which grows more daunting and overpowering as the months of Irene's confinement drone on. The changes of season match Irene's and her confiner's moods: at first optimistic and almost happy but devolving into unease and hatred. Ultimately, the remoteness plays a key role in the film's scenes which feel like an explosion - of both sound, violence, and emotion - after the film's slow simmer.

At just over two hours, The Daughter manages to sustain its intensity for the duration, thanks in large part to great performances from Irene Virguez and Javier Gutierrez as Irene and Javier respectively. It certainly helps that Cuenca and his writing partner Alejandro Hernandez are constantly adding and shifting the story, building layer upon layer of information to build a movie that is quietly horrific. It's not very flashy but with each passing scene, The Daughter becomes more claustrophobic and terrifying; an intricate and well-balanced house of cards that collapses in spectacular fashion.

While it's not difficult to follow, The Daughter does require active participation from the audience. It's not a movie that relies on big reveals or hugely dramatic moments but rather plays as an even-tempered, slow-burn thriller which makes the ending that much more satisfying.

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