Shrew’s Nest

4 out of 5

Directed by: Juan Fernando Andrés and Esteban Roel

Single location thrillers tend to come with excess time dedicated to explaining why we’re in a single location: there’s a threat from outside; something inside prevents us from leaving; and then when that doesn’t suffice, the various ‘they’ve cut the power’ / ‘they’ve locked the doors’ kind of thing that’s always put me on the lookout for houses that actually seem to lock only from the outside.  It’s a double-edged sword for our generally doubting viewers: if you don’t explain this stuff, we’re going to question it, but the more you explain it, the more we become sensitive to what seems awfully coincidental, or – damningly often – what becomes a logical flaw.  The best bet here is to put some stable blinders in place, then ramp up the internal happenings so we don’t wander into disbelieving territory.

Shrew’s Nest has its ‘something inside’ variation – Montse (Macarena Gómez) is agoraphobic – but it doesn’t use that as a trick to play up the claustrophobia inherent in living inside the same apartment for her whole life; we actually start from Montse’s sister’s point of view, Nia (Nadia de Santiago), reflecting on the bedtime stories Montse used to read her; portending darker things as she’s kept awake by the images of those stories.  The camera and story do stay inside the apartment, but it breathes: since Nia is presumably our point of view, we’re allowed an interesting psychological release by the fact that she leaves the home for work, or to see a boy.  We don’t follow her, but just that escape is possible, and an everyday occurrence, creates the sense that this is a place to live and not a prison.  Directors Juan Fernando Andrés and Esteban Roel bring other people inside – clients for Montse, a dressmaker – and the camera find room for each woman, and a living room, and a kitchen.  It doesn’t feel isolating; only hints of medicine that Montse takes – and the fear in her face that creeps up when she worries that Nia, now 18, might leave her alone – tell us that there’s more going on.

Slowly but surely: we witness the relationship between the girls turn violent; it’s not the first time.  Montse imagines their absent father, emotionally abusive, following her around the house.  A noise outside the door has Montse discover Carlos (Hugo Silva) essentially collapsed on the threshold, near unconscious from a painful tumble down the stairs.  After a moment of reflection, gripping her cross necklace (religious guilt running deep in this film…), Montse makes the decision to drag Carlos inside and care for him.  But never able to leave, and with these memories of Dad growing darker, that ‘care’ starts to take on the same implications as the earlier infarction with Nia.

Shrew’s Nest is a thriller, but the way things devolve do descend into horror.  Nadia de Santiago brings a tricky balance of affection for her sister and worry to witness a raised hand to the role, and Silva makes us believe in the reasons for his staying, past the point when one would like need to go.  But this is Gómez’s show, through and through.  While the character’s change from slightly unstable to unhinged is certainly a credit to our directors and writers (Andrés and Sofía Cuenca), its Gómez who ultimately makes it watchable, and addictive, and frighteningly believable.  Her fluttery reactions to any unplanned interaction shows the possibilities of what’s to come early on, and her sudden aggressions are blended with remorse in a most terrifying fashion.

While the movie makes excellent use of its 90 minutes to take us up through a bloody conclusion, it tacks on a final quirk that’s largely unnecessary.  It doesn’t detract from the proceedings, but it also doesn’t add to them, and doesn’t quite sell the final shots in the way I think it was intended to.  And although I think starting from Nia’s point of view, as mentioned above, is ultimately a smart play, and misleads us from realizing that this is Montse’s story, the voiceover narration in that opening sequence disappears otherwise.  So we’re bookended with slightly forced pieces to help frame a start and end, but Shrew’s Nest is such a smart, gripping take on the single location thriller that this is truly easy to forgive.