Like the forensic lab in which it’s set, Oriol Paulo’s debut, “The Body,” is darkly fascinating, full of secrets and highly polished, if also a little too clinical for comfort. Bringing together a number of contempo thriller tropes, this compact and highly efficient howdunit about the disappearance of a corpse from said lab reps the kind of breathless, relentless genre fare whose sole aim is to generate suspense, and it pretty much succeeds. International presales have been understandably brisk for this year’s Sitges fest opener.
Multiple flashbacks notwithstanding, the pic unfolds over a single night, creating the intensely compelling feeling that events are playing out in real time. After a security guard (Manel Dueso) flees the lab in terror, only to be hit by a passing car, it’s discovered that the body of heiress and businesswoman Mayka Villaverde (Belen Rueda) has gone missing. Det. Jaime Pena (Jose Coronado, his hair flattened in stark contrast to the unruly mop he displayed in his last troubled-cop role, in “No Rest for the Wicked”) is brought in, and after a breathless 15 minutes, it’s pretty much established that Mayka’s killer is her husband, Alex Ulloa (Hugo Silva), who’s been having an affair with Carla Miller (Aura Garrido).
Pena, who has pretty bad anger-management issues, immediately suspects Alex and methodically sets about interrogating him in some tense, across-the-table scenes whose impact is diminished by the helmer’s insistence on keeping the camera moving. Most of the ensuing action takes place in the lab, with Ulloa moving around in semi-darkness and stumbling on several eerie coincidences that suggest that “The Body” will take a paranormal turn. Thankfully, it does not, and remains just this side of credible on its way to the big final revelation and a beautifully daring last snippet of dialogue.
The regular flashbacks supply a welcome respite from the lab setting and flesh out the details of Mayka’s relationship with Alex, who ran the pharmaceuticals company she owned. Plot points continue to pile up in a way that’s satisfying enough while the pic is playing, but they don’t stand up to much scrutiny on post-viewing reflection.
The four central thesps are all fine, striking the necessary sparks and helping to conceal the fact that their characters are cardboard, constructed only to fit into the pic’s intricate jigsaw puzzle. Coronado turns the simmering Pena into the film’s most threatening presence, while the always watchable Rueda (best known offshore for “The Orphanage”) turns Mayka’s callous manipulations of Alex into an echo of the daring games the story plays with the audience.
Oscar Faura’s lensing stresses the slick and shiny, whether exploring the dark shadows of the lab, Mayka and Alex’s sumptuous home or the illuminated streets of the could-be-anywhere city where the film is set. The continuous thunderstorm outside serves little dramatic purpose, but at least ensures that everything looks suitably wet and lovely.