Presented at the 47th Sitges Film Festival to a full auditorium buzzing with anticipation, Shrew’s Nest is an oblique addition to the growing body of horror-tinged Spanish dramas/thrillers that plunge their dark and twisted roots into the Civil War. Produced by Alex de la Iglesia, this first feature by Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel is set in the claustrophobic confines of an apartment inhabited by the agoraphobic Montse and her younger sister, who has just turned 18. As it becomes obvious that the latter is growing up and will soon want to live her own life, their neighbour Carlos falls down the stairs, breaks his leg and is rescued by Montse, who, desperately latching on to this providential new object of affection, will do anything to keep him helplessly there.
From the very beginning, childhood memories create an atmosphere of dread and doom that overwhelms the sisters’ lives, and strongly hint at the nature of the dark secrets that lie beneath respectable appearances. The bond of warped love and violence that connects the two sisters is thicker than it first seems, and as they fight over the younger sibling’s growing independence, then over Carlos, all the terrible acts that connect them are forced to the surface. The bloody ending brings a resolution of sorts, but no liberation, simply a confirmation that it is impossible to escape from the prison built so solidly by unwholesome family ties.
In that claustrophobic hothouse, Macarena Gómez is sensational as Montse, simultaneously pathetic and horrifying, loving and tyrannical, frail and violent, while Nadia de Santiago’s fresh-faced innocence becomes gradually tarnished by fear and truth. It is a hysterical film, saturated with repression, progressively descending into grotesque insanity. There are narrative incoherencies and implausibilities, but what matters here is less the story than the thick, dense, pungent mood. Plunging the audience into a world of brutalisation and oppression, of relationships distorted by abusive power, of impotent victims’ perverted strategies of survival, Shrew’s Nest cannot help but resonate with the painful history of the country. Damningly, it is a world in which the corruptions of the past leave no one is unsullied.