Thrillers about “Death’s Grand Design” might be my favorite kind of horror film. It’s a time-tested subgenre, but “Final Destination” is one of the better examples of it of recent vintage.
“The Warning” folds that idea into a puzzle picture, “Memento” featuring “A Beautiful Mind” where the obsessed crank is trying to unravel the connections among decades of death at one fateful Spanish address in Basque country.
Jon (Raúl Arévalo) pops his pills before picking up his buddy David (Sergio Mur). David is late (He is Spanish, after all.) and he’s excited. He’s about to ask Andrea (Belén Cuesta) to fly to Paris with him so he can hit her with a surprise proposal.
Best friend Jon will be his best man, the guy he trusts with the rings. But first, let’s get some ice Andrea wanted. And some champagne. At a convenience store.
The drive-by shooting that follows puts David in a coma, Andrea in a tailspin and Jon off his meds and into his obsession. Thirty-two years before, there was an infamous ETA (Basque separatist) assassination attempt at that very filling station. There were five people present. He jots down their ages.
They match. “What’s the pattern?” he asks (in Spanish, with English subtitles).
Ten years later, in the film’s present day, an about-to-turn ten boy (Hugo Arbues) is bullied into stealing a porn magazine by a gang of middle school toughs. The manager watches him do it, stops him and steers him away from the store.
As Nico endures more abuse at school and his frantic single mom (Aura Garrido) grows more furious and frantic with school officials about it, the boy gets a cryptic note — don’t show up at that store on your birthday, April 12.
We and his mother are chilled to the marrow. Nico? He wets his pants.
Director Daniel Calparsoro, working from a script adaptation of a novel by Paul Pen and Chris Sparling, deftly weaves in Nico’s growing dread — the beatings don’t stop just because mom’s a tattletale — with Jon’s rising mania.
As Jon’s pal David lies in the hospital, he fills his apartment with notes and research — violence associated with that particular place on the map, incidents years and decades apart. Lucia, Nico’s mom, does her own research. This note, she wonders if the store manager has a clue.
“Maybe it’s not a threat,” he mumbles. “Maybe it’s a warning.”
Calpasoro expertly ratchets up the suspense in “The Warning (El Aviso),” showing two timelines whose protagonists grow more frantic by the minute. Jon must figure this out, must “warn” somebody about this. Nico? He’s hellbent on not going back in that damned store.
And mom, hellbent on making this a teachable moment about superstition and the supernatural (no such thing), is determined he’ll go back there to prove her point and take away his paranoia.
Very clever of the novelists and screenwriters (Paxti Amezcua and Jorge Guerricaechevarria) to find third act twists that ice the cake of the resolution we think we see coming.
The performances, by Arévalo, Garrido and young Arbues, draw us in, with Arévalo and Garrido dialing up the mania as the stakes become clearer and young Arbues subtly suggesting terror that gives way to resignation.
But it’s the puzzle of a story, the fight against fate, “death’s grand design,” that makes “The Warning” one of the best made-for-Netflix thrillers to date.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, gun violence, profanity
Credits:Directed by Daniel Calparsoro , script by Paxti Amezcua and Jorge Guerricaechevarria, based on a novel by Paul Pen and Chris Sparling
. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:32