A sense of deflated expectations hits hard about halfway through “Hierro,” a sporadically compelling but ultimately paper-thin thriller about a woman’s frantic search for her missing son. Far too many false scares, punctuated by an over-eager orchestral score, erode a thriller fan’s trust to the point where any swift resolution to the central mystery seems desirable. As directed by TV-ad vet Gabe Ibanez, Paramount’s recent pickup for Spanish distribution has more than enough moody images to fill an eye-catching trailer, but the film itself, serviceably acted by a small cast, simply fails to deliver.
Named for the Spanish island to which Maria (Elena Anaya) and her cute 5-year-old Diego (Kaiet Rodriguez) are traveling by ferry when the latter disappears, “Hierro” bears comparison to Lars von Trier’s Cannes entry “Antichrist” for its reality-blurring study of a mother’s consuming grief and eventual madness. More than anything, though, the film resembles the average American straight-to-cable thriller.
Six months after Diego’s vanishing, Maria returns to El Hierro and sees — or thinks she sees —- her son playing on the beach. Subsequent clues lead the increasingly strung-out woman to a trailer park and more vaguely ambiguous sightings of her beloved son. Cheap “gotcha” shocks accompany the introductions of several characters who are potentially menacing if only for their poverty relative to our middle-class heroine.
A merely pretty scene of momentarily calm Maria enjoying ocean waves bespeaks Ibanez’s background in commercials. For his would-be-suspenseful feature debut, the director throws in some very old thriller cliches — flickering fluorescent lights, weird creaking sounds and an eventual admission that nothing remotely supernatural is happening at all.
Professionally produced and often suggesting a Hollywood calling card for Ibanez, “Hierro” starts well with a spectacularly lensed car crash, leading a mother, not Maria, to discover her own son missing. To varying degrees, both of these women are portrayed as having a firmer grip on sentiment than sanity — yet another thriller cliche.