PARA ELISA (REVIEW)
Dir. Juanra Fernández
Reviewer. Richard Waters
Entitled and bratty college student Ana (Ona Casamiquela) is forced to look for work to pay for her graduation holiday. Answering an advertisement looking for a nanny, she goes for a job interview with the child’s mother (Luisa Gavasa), a suspicious woman, who drugs Ana and takes her captive. The daughter (Ana Turpin) is revealed to actually be a young adult with an unhealthy attachment to her mother, who plans on keeping Ana as a human doll. Can Ana find a way to escape? Will her boyfriend or best friend be able to save her in time? Or will she be doomed to be another doll in the collection of the twisted family?
Here’s the thing, FOR ELISA starts out really promising. Under a tone similar to ROSEMARY'S BABY or the more recent I SAW THE DEVIL, the entire film is gorgeously shot, with every frame seeping a golden hue, and the characters are engaging to watch. Though they are over the top, this gives them a massively satirical side, taking an average genre flick and giving it the potential to be so much more. For the first twenty minutes, the film is downright captivating, and the interview scene with the mother will give you the creeps. This horrible girl thinking she deserves a comfortable life simply because she is young and pretty leaves the entire world open to putting her through hell and back, looking at what it is she should value in life, and you will be on the edge of your seat waiting just where the story is going. Unfortunately, this potential is lost the moment Ana is taken prisoner.
The most shocking thing about the second half of the film is just how dissatisfying it is. The film falls into a linear and predictable path, setting up every survival thriller cliché you could imagine, and still falling flat on them. There are no surprises. The entire second half takes place over one night, with the action feeling stunted and containing more than a few convenient plot devices to speed the film towards its disappointedly obvious ending. Ana’s drug dealer boyfriend is there purely for the police to refuse to help him and attempt to frustrate the audience. Her best friend is a by-the-numbers sassy woman who meets the exact fate you’d expect. The crazy daughter, who we are told early on is a light sleeper and goes berserk when awoken, happens to be a very heavy sleeper when it is convenient. Without spoiling anything important, it is a film full of contrivance and coincidence, eschewing the classic horror set up of the first half to deliver a rushed and poorly thought out second half that will offend anyone who has ever watched a horror movie before.
If you have never seen any survival horror/thrillers, FOR ELISA might work for you. Indeed, one of the best squeamish moments is a leg break lifted straight out of Misery, except lacking the tension. The film isn’t too shy about its violent moments, which are all technically decent, but an awful lot of it occurs off-screen. Not frustratingly so, but not a film for those looking to satisfy a blood lust.
FOR ELISA should have been a modern masterpiece and a great throwback to classic horror. Instead, it is an utter disappointment that retroactively spoils a good setup and will leave you frustrated at just how unoriginal it is. It’s not a film that lingers in the mind for very long, which is probably for the best.