Watch La Abuela
- 1 hr 40 min
"La Abuela" (The Grandmother) is a 2021 Spanish horror film directed by Paco Plaza, known for his work on the acclaimed "[Rec]" series. This chilling tale weaves elements of psychological horror and suspense with a nuanced exploration of aging and familial relationships. The movie introduces audiences to a haunting narrative that unfolds within the confinements of a somber Madrid apartment, augmented by the tension of unforeseen supernatural phenomena.
The protagonist of "La Abuela" is Susana, portrayed by Almudena Amor. She is a young and ambitious model whose life in Paris is cut short when she receives distressing news from back home in Spain. Susana's grandmother, Pilar (played by Vera Valdez), has suffered a debilitating stroke, prompting Susana to put her own life on hold to return to Madrid and become her grandmother's caretaker. The partnership between these two characters forms the emotional core of the film, pitting youth against the frailty of old age in a suspenseful domestic setting.
The film establishes a tone of isolation and strangeness from the outset. As Susana takes on her new caregiving responsibilities, she moves into her grandmother's antique apartment, which feels like a relic from a bygone era. The oppressive atmosphere of the residence reflects her grandmother's history — a glamorous past as a fashion designer that now seems like a distant memory — and serves as an eerie backdrop to the unfolding story.
Pilar is portrayed as a once formidable woman who has been reduced to a shadow of her former self due to age and illness. Valdez's compelling performance captures the character's complexity, with moments of vulnerability interspersed with inexplicable and disturbing behavior. Despite her condition, Pilar imbues the film with a sense of the uncanny through her mere presence within the quiet, imposing confines of the apartment.
Karina Kolokolchykova assumes the role of a nurse who assists with Pilar's care, adding another dynamic to the household's delicate balance. Her introduction changes the household dynamics and brings new perspectives into Susana's increasingly insular world. The interactions among Susana, her grandmother, and the nurse serve to escalate the film's growing sense of tension and foreboding.
As Susana immerses herself more within her caregiving duties, she starts to experience strange occurrences that blur the line between the natural and supernatural. The film deploys intimate horror through the gradual distortion of the familiar setting and clever use of sound design, keeping viewers perpetually on edge and questioning the reality of what they're witnessing.
The screenplay deftly interlaces the psychological and the paranormal, with Susana's grip on reality seeming to erode as the story progresses. Themes of dread, the decay of the human body, and the haunting weight of ancestry and lineage are pervasively explored, culminating in an experience that is as existential as it is unsettling.
Director Paco Plaza employs subtle yet impactful directorial techniques to cultivate a sense of menace. He refrains from relying heavily on jump scares or explicit gore, instead opting for a slow burn approach that leverages the actors' performances and the atmospheric settings to elevate the horror. Plaza demonstrates a nuanced understanding of the genre by building layers of psychological tension before introducing otherworldly elements to the plot.
From a visual perspective, the film boasts a distinct aesthetic. The dimly lit interiors of the apartment contrast with the vibrant and busy streets of Madrid, highlighting the protagonist's sense of isolation. Cinematographer Daniel Fernández Abelló helps in conveying the story's eerie tone through meticulous use of shadow and framing, drawing the viewer's eye to the meticulously crafted scenes that are both beautiful and haunting.
Through its uneven pacing, "La Abuela" challenges audiences to remain patient, rewarding them with a rich narrative that slowly unfolds. Some viewers might find the gradual development to be a test of endurance, while others will appreciate the depth of character development and the meticulously crafted suspense.
In "La Abuela," Plaza crafts more than just a conventional horror story; he offers reflection on generational bonds, the toll of aging, and the fear of our own mortality. With formidable performances by Amor and Valdez, and a haunting atmosphere permeated by an effective and moody score, the film stands out as a thought-provoking and spine-tingling addition to the horror canon.
"La Abuela" ultimately is a story about the horrors that lie within the human condition and the family. It's an absorbing and emotive tale that weaves the normal and paranormal into a compelling narrative that stays with the viewer long after the credits roll.
La Abuela is a 2023 horror movie with a runtime of 1 hour and 40 minutes. It has received moderate reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 5.9.