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Hal MacDermot [Celluloid 07.15.09] movie review horror



Year: 2009
Directors: Gabe Ibáñez
Writers: Javier Gullón & Jesus de la Vega
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Hal MacDermot
Rating: 6.8 out of 10

Hierro is a beautifully shot, psychological thriller/horror from first time Spanish director Gabe Ibáñez, and the producers of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage. It confirms Spain’s reputation as a crib for awesomely atmospheric and visually powerful films, like the fully apocalyptic Before the Fall (2008), and I reckon we’ll be hearing quite a bit from the talented Mr. Ibáñez in the future.

But, despite the brilliant location, a volcanic, blasted and God forsaken island called Hierro (iron), which is the most Southerly outpost of Europe, this is a flick that promises fear and only half delivers. It’s never quite scary enough, and often shies away from the psychological or even real horror it promises. Well, except for the story resolution, when the heroine Maria finally goes into attack mode and the mierda hits the fan.


Loving mother Maria, powerfully played by Elena Alaya (Sex and Lucia) is taking her 5 year old boy Diego to the isolated island of Hierro for a holiday. On the ferry, the boy disappears, and Maria’s world implodes. She develops a phobia for water that’s a borderline supernatural haunting, and it’s one of the coolest, trippiest things in the movie. Loved all that, and I’m convinced I saw the ocean water in the painting move. Six months later, she is called back to the island to ID the dead body of a boy that the police are sure is Diego. But Maria rejects their claims and now she has to wait over 3 days until they can run a DNA test. As Maria explores the island, she learns that another young boy also disappeared around the same time. How much are the local police and the Islanders, who all know each other, keeping from her? Convinced that her boy’s alive, Maria conducts her own investigation, but is she chasing Diego or creating her own world or horror and insanity?

Alejandro Martínez’s cinematography perfectly captures this dark and brooding island. It reminded me a bit of Hal Hartley’s Iceland in No Such Thing, although Martinez is darker. The film is shot through with Jungian type symbols like dark flocks of birds that seem to follow her around, and then there’s the underwater shots of strange ominous fish are awesome. The director clearly knows all about the creation of powerful images, and in fact he runs an SFX house in Madrid and has made a whole bunch of commercials. But although these visual symbols are in themselves beautiful, I felt in the end they were just a sort of psychological/visual eye candy. The dramatic and actual horror suggested is generally not delivered. Come to think of it, I’ve always thought Jungian symbols were dead cool but also never really known what they meant. Maybe I’m just a divvie.

The screenwriter of Hierro, Javier Gullón, also wrote El rey de la montaña (The King of the Mountain, 2007) which sounds brilliant, and I need to see it. Hierro’s music score is by Zacarías M. de la Riva and is dominating with lots of classical chords. I think that it mostly worked because the island is such a visually dramatic location, although again it did promise dramatic goods which not often delivered, or came late. Still, this is really impressive debut movie and worth checking out. I’m looking forward to the Director’s next one.

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