Awakening teenage sexuality falls victim to darker things in Manuel Gomez Pereira's flawed but intriguing "The Hanged Man."

Awakening teenage sexuality falls victim to darker things in Manuel Gomez Pereira’s flawed but intriguing “The Hanged Man,” a quietly intense thriller that sees the helmer abandoning his comedies (of late, rather jaded) for something meatier. Pereira’s 1999 “Between the Legs” showed he could do thrillers, but this is more mainstream fare. Though it’s overlong and let down by its chemistry-free central romance, the pic remains agile enough to avoid the noose. Offshore prospects look solid in Spanish territories, with the possibility of arthouse pickups elsewhere.

We first meet Sandra and David when they’re kids, as David risks his life to impress her. Later, in their teens, David (Alvaro Cervantes) is a wild boy who struggles to get through school, violently pressured by his hateful father (Boris Ruiz), while Sandra (Clara Lago) is a loner, friends only with Olga (Adriana Ugarte).

Out of the blue, Sandra is bundled into the back of a white van, taken to an empty warehouse and raped; she stabs her attacker and leaves him for dead. When she reports the news to David, he makes her promise not to tell anyone and heads off to hide the body, an act he will later sorely regret as he’s dragged into a hell of his own.

Thrown closer together by the terrible event, they are drawn into a relationship that David becomes obsessive about — later, he will follow her to Ireland — but Sandra soon comes to find it claustrophobic.

Script is careful to get its characters in place before starting the action, and never loosens its grip on the psychological truth of its central partnership. David and Sandra are an ordinary pair plunged into extraordinary circumstances, and the pic earns more points for its depiction of their intensifying angst than for its off-the-peg plotline, which, in the last half-hour, doesn’t manage its revelations well enough to prevent a sense of dragging.

Lago is lively in a range of moods as Sandra and deals well with some tough scenes such as her post-rape reaction. But Cervantes, though eliciting some compassion for the increasingly remote David, simply mumbles sulkily.

Visually, the pic takes no risks, and the orchestral score is applied with a hammer. The black-and-white flashbacks, too, overstay their welcome.

Sections of the pic are in English, mostly featuring Irish thesp Mary Murray as Sandra’s sympathetic English teacher.

The Hanged Man

Spain-Ireland)

Production

A Sony Pictures Releasing (in Spain) release of an El Amigo de Lenon, Ovideo (Spain)/Subotica (Ireland) production, with participation of TVE, TVC. (International sales: Kevin Williams Associates, Madrid.) Produced by Manuel Pereira, Ana Amigo, Dominic Wright, Tristan Lynch. Directed by Manuel Gomez Pereira. Screenplay, Gomez Pereira, Salvador Garcia Ruiz, based on a novel by Imma Turbau.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Juan Amoros; editor, Jose Salcedo; music, Bingen Mendizabal; art directors, Ana Alvargonzalez, Ciara O'Donnell; sound (Dolby Digital), Miguel Polo. Reviewed at Cines Princesa, Madrid, Feb. 2, 2009. Running time: 107 MIN.

With

Clara Lago, Alvaro Cervantes, Adriana Ugarte, Mary Murray, Boris Ruiz. (Spanish, English dialogue)

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