The novel place and time are the only distinguishing characteristics of “Marshland,” a Spanish serial killer thriller set in the years just after the death of the dictactor Francisco Franco.
Those were wild, unbridled times in the cities of Spain, free from the repression of an almost 40 Fascist (with Catholic Church support) regime. Watch the early films of Pedro Almodovar to get a sense of the hedonism that gripped a country trying to make up for lost time in the sexual/cultural revolution.
But in the South, in the swampy fish and farm country outside of Seville, the change came slower.
In 1980, the grizzled state policeman (Javier Gutiérrez) can gripe to his younger partner (Raúl Arévalo) that this is “YOUR new country” (in Spanish, with English subtitles). With every threat, slap and growl, the veteran uan lets us know he preferred the old ways.
Somebody is killing young girls in a small town, murders seemingly tied to the annual fair. Two cops, both exiles from The Big City, where the Action Is, struggle to solve the case — each in his own way.
Pedro (Averlo) has the long hair common to this New Era, Juan the short cut and shorter fuse of the Old Regime.
They are mistrusted. They rely on a poacher (Salva Reina) to guide them, and brute force with some of the locals to get to the truth.
And they’ll be fine, just so long as their investigation doesn’t point in the wrong direction, a local magistrate warns them. Repeatedly.
What director/co-writer Alberto Rodriguez was going for with “La Isla Minima” (the Spanish title) is a Spanish “Touch of Evil,” where the old cop with a scary past and blood in his urine has instincts, and the younger guy wants to find answers without torture. The performances get there, even if the script doesn’t. The locations suggest “the REAL Spain” of Luis Bunuel, the situation straight out of the first season of “True Detective.”
And there are hints of the superior Argentinian film “The Official Story,” intimations about Juan’s brutal past passed on by a newspaper photographer. The mystery itself isn’t easily solved, mainly because the script serves up one promising red herring after another, not giving us all the information we need to figure this out.
But the time and place make this engrossing enough to stick with, even if we suspect the filmmakers aren’t playing fair with our efforts to beat the cops to the solution.
Cast: Javier Gutiérrez, Raúl Arévalo
Credits: Directed by Alberto Rodriguez, script by Rafael Cobos, Alberto Rodríguez. A Film Factory release.
Running time: 1:45