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Toronto Film Review: ‘Shrew’s Nest’

The delicate balance between two reclusive sisters is upset by a handsome neighbor's presence in this 'Misery'-style psychological horror-thriller.

Macarena Gomez, Nadia de Santiago, Luis Toar, Hugo Silva.

A “Misery”-style captive situation upends the fragile balance between two reclusive sisters in “Shrew’s Nest,” a 1950s-set tale of repression and madness that marks the feature debut of directing duo Juanfer Andres and Esteban Roel. Produced by Alex de la Iglesia, this typically high-polish, psychologically angled Spanish horror-thriller is well handled in all departments even if its ideas never feel particularly fresh, or their execution more than solid. Offshore sales should be decent without approaching the genre’s higher export watermarks of recent years.

Their mother having died in childbirth, and their absent father presumed dead for nearly as many years, Montse (Macarena Gomez) has been both affectionate sibling and an occasionally heavy-handed surrogate mother/authority figure to her younger sis (Nadia de Santiago, playing a figure who, for no obvious reason, goes unnamed throughout). The latter, who’s just turned 18, goes out to work each day and is a normal, well-adjusted girl. The same can hardly be said for Montse, a high-strung religious fanatic and agoraphobe who keeps her sibling on a very tight leash: Terrified of being left alone, among other things, she freaks out at the possibility that sis might have a secret boyfriend, or even a potential one.

Alone every day but for the occasional client visit (she’s a dressmaker), Montse one day overcomes her fears enough to answer a desperate cry for help. Handsome upstairs neighbor Carlos (Hugo Silva) has fallen down the stairs, hitting his head and hurting a leg. Montse puts him in their parents’ bedroom, and upon waking, he’s grateful for the care. But the hitherto buried feelings this unexpected visitor awakens in her prove unfortunate for him.

He’s slow to realize (even after the younger sis discovers his presence and warns him to get the hell out) that his situation is perilous: Montse keeps him drugged with morphine, “immobilizes” his leg for less-than-medical reasons, and claims a doctor has been to see him when none has indeed, his untended limb is getting worse by the day. When outsiders also begin to guess at the missing man’s whereabouts, the besotted Montse who already has disturbing visions of her late, goading father (Luis Tosar) snaps tether, with lethal results.

Cinematic enough despite barely leaving the lead characters’ apartment, “Shrew’s Nest” is well acted and paced, its climactic bloodbath effective if unmemorable. But there’s no real sense of surprise here, particularly in a late revelation that means to be shocking, but which most viewers will have long since guessed at. Tech and design aspects are nicely turned down the line.

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Toronto Film Review: 'Shrew's Nest'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Vanguard), Sept. 9, 2014. Running time: 95 MIN. (Original title: "Musaranas")

Production: A Pokeepsie Films production. (International sales: Pokeepsie, Madrid.) Produced by Alex De La Iglesia, Carolina Bang, Kiko Martinez.

Crew: Directed by Juanfer Andres, Esteban Roel. Screenplay, Andres, Sofia Cuenca. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Angel Amoros; editor, Andres; music, Joan Valent; production designer, Pedro Ruigomez; costume designer, Paola Torrres; special FX, Pedro Rodriguez; sound, Juan Borrell.

With: Macarena Gomez, Nadia de Santiago, Luis Toar, Hugo Silva.

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