Sexual repression, abuse, religious fervour and outright nuttiness come together in this energetic, if messy, Spanish post-war horror thriller from Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel, produced by genre veteran Álex de la Iglesia.
When Montse’s (Macarena Gómez) mother died giving birth to another baby girl, it was up to the older sister to step up and take care of the family. Now, her sister (Nadia Di Santiago) is 18 and ready to face the world, while Montse is an agoraphobic spinster who is prone to violent mood swings. Just as things look like they’re coming to a head, handsome neighbour Carlos (Hugo Silva) falls down the stairs and Montse brings him inside to take care of him…but can she let him go?
Shrew’s Nest’s influences swirl together to make an entertaining mix. There’s plenty of Misery, of course, and more than a bit of Psycho, not to mention plenty of Polanski’s Repulsion. Andrés and Roel’s obvious love of both arthouse and pulpy psychological thrillers means that their film is hard to get a handle on tonally. It’s a bit tough to settle into the film as a well-made, well-acted trashy horror when revelations about Montse’s past are genuinely quite stomach-turning.
What this does mean, however, is that Shrew’s Nest keeps you on your toes. While the blood and body parts do show up eventually, there’s a great deal of care taken to ensure that Montse keeps her humanity. We see her at (well, not quite) her worst early on, and her love for her sister and her struggle to become a whole person make her a compelling. Gómez is terrific in the lead role; self-aware enough to nail the more comic moments while creating this tragic figure.
The supporting cast is also strong. Di Santiago puts in good work as the determined younger sister, while Sleep Tight’s Luis Tosar is an imposing figure as the pair’s father who comes to play an important role in proceedings.
It is Gómez’s show, however, and as the plot becomes increasingly silly it’s her performance that keeps us invested. The directors aren’t afraid of playing up the black comedy and although that balance between dark chuckles and genuine nastiness is generally quite wobbly, Shrew’s Nest is a well-directed, entertaining chiller with a great central performance.
Shrew’s Nest is playing at the BFI London Film Festival. There is currently no further UK release date.