Is there a house style to Spanish horror films, a common thread that they share?
There’ve been so many, covering every genre, it’s a wonder they don’t have their own nomenclature, like “J-Horror” (Japanese), K-Horror” (Korean) and the like. A simple translation will have to do — Horror Español.
Yes, if the movie’s dull enough, your mind wanders to such arcana. Mine does, anyway.
The one thing the ghost stories, zombie tales, vampire thrillers and witchcraft cinema of Spain have in common? Design. They’re all about the gloom, almost all set in gloomy old houses in an ancient country where “gloom” isn’t the rule. Sunshine is.
“The Influence” is as gloomy as any of them — well, not “The Orphanage,” “The Others” or “The Devil’s Backbone” — even if there isn’t all that much that’s new or novel in it. It’s about two daughters struggling to cope with the end-of-life instructions of their mother. She (Emma Suárez) may be in a coma, with her “living will” ordering her nurse and daughters to keep her alive, no matter matter. But Alicia (Manuela Vellés), the nurse-daughter who has returned to help, remembers she was a witch. Alicia even told her husband (Alain Hernández).
It’s just that sister Sara (Maggie Civantos) can’t manage the inert, evil crone on her own.
Childhood flashbacks recount the trauma of their childhood, something Sara seems to have pushed back into her memory. Alicia? She’s annoyed at being here, enraged at “everything she did to us,” at her mother’s family for allowing this long-ago abuse to happen. But Alicia is strapped for cash because electrician jobs for husband Mikel are hard to come by in this corner of coastal Spain. They are as trapped as Sara has been.
And then the old woman on life support upstairs starts making a play for Alicia’s ten year old daughter, Nora (Claudia Placer).
“Mum wants Nora to stand in front of the mirror,” Sara guesses (in Spanish, with English subtitles). Which mirror?
The effects or “gimmicks” here include trapping Nora in granny’s room where objects rise from shelves and attack her, another room filled with talismans, ritual objects, magic books and the like, including a deer’s skull and antlers and particularly potent locket.
Nora takes the rage she’s absorbing at home with her to her new school. “Acting out” creates a body count.
You know. The usual.
Mother Alicia and Daddy Mikel will do what they can to protect. Auntie Sara? We’ll see.
First-time feature director Denis Rovira van Boekholt throws a lot of gruesome stuff at us in this adaptation of a Ramsey Campbell novel. Is any of it scary? Not so much.
There’s little mystery in play when everybody seems to know Victoria was and is a witch, even if they’ve chosen to forget or ignore the evidence her kids witnessed long ago.
The tropes of the genre demand a lot of spooky rooms and a cellar to get lost in and mother-daughter bonds that will be tested across generations.
If you think you can guess what happens, you’re probably right. If you think you know who lives until the closing credits, you’re dead on the money.
MPAA Rating: TV:MA, graphic violence, some sexuality
Cast: Manuela Vellés, Maggie Civantos, Alain Hernández, Claudia Placer and Emma Suárez
Credits: Directed by Denis Rovira van Boekholt, script by Michel Gaztambide, Daniel Rissech and Denis Rovira van Boekholt, based on a Ramsey Campbell novel. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:39