J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Para Elisa: Spoiled Deadly

It is a bad idea to constantly spoil tantrum prone children. Nevertheless, whenever Elisa breaks a doll, her mother simply replaces it, with another living being. Ana will be the next victim lured into their macabre doll’s house, but at least her stoner-dealer boyfriend is not taking her disappearance for granted in Juanra Fernández’s Para Elisa (trailer here), which releases today on DVD and VOD from Dark Sky Films.

Poor entitled Ana needs 1,000 Euros for her graduation trip, so she takes the drastic step of looking for a job. Diamantina is supposedly looking for a nanny and her tony flat is right on the town square. (It turns out the walls sure are thick though.) Kids are fine with Ana, but she balks when she learns Elisa is a developmentally challenged woman roughly her own age. Too late, Diamantina has already slipped her a mickey.

When she comes to, her vocal chords and muscles are still paralyzed by whatever eucalyptus cocktail the old woman brewed up. Much to her horror, Ana is expected to become Elisa’s latest living doll. Diamantina grimly cautions Ana to cooperate, lest she provoke Ana’s violent temper.

Granted, some might find the portrayal of Elisa problematically exploitative, but you do not review as many horror films as we have by being overly sensitive. Elisa is a handful—deal with it. Arguably, it is sort of a necessary pre-condition for a massively creepy premise. In fact, Ana’s state of pawed immobility taps into some deeply held anxieties, ranging from the sleep paralysis documented in Rodney Ascher’s The Nightmare to the cast-bound Jimmy Stewart getting defenestrated in Rear Window.

Para Elisa does indeed incorporate Für Elise into its soundtrack, so give it credit for musical literacy. However, the final climax is a bit perfunctory, which is especially problematic considering it really is a shorty, barely hitting the seventy-five minute marker.

Nevertheless, Fernández’s execution is unflaggingly stylish. For some reason, Spanish horror films all seem to share a similarly eerie but distinctive look and vibe. It is hard to pin down, but you will recognize it every time. Maybe they are all burning ceremonial effigies of Franco off-screen. Regardless, Para Elisa maintains an unceasing atmosphere of dread, while the architecture and surrounding countryside of Cuenca in Castilla-La Mancha looks breathtaking. Recommended for fans of Spanish horror, Para Elisa is now available on DVD and VOD from Dark Sky Films.

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