Here’s a sadistic Spanish thriller that begins dark, turns darker and ends darkest of all, with unhealthy servings of paranoia and claustrophobia along the way.
Mario Casas (“The 33”) is Angel, “The Paramedic” (“El practicante”). And Angel first gives us a hint that he’s not an “angel of mercy” in this odd peccadillo he’s picked-up on the job.
He keeps souvenirs from car crashes he responds to — women’s sunglasses. Locks them in a cabinet in the apartment he shares with leggy, blonde and French Vane (Vanessa), played by Déborah François of the indie Western “Never Grow Old.”
Angel is a sullen type, barely tolerating his too-chatty driver/partner (Guillermo Pfening).
But “souvenirs” aren’t the only sketchy thing he does on the job. He robs the dead and sells their jewelry to a fence.
The loving relationship he thinks he has with Vane is tested by their attempts to have a baby. She is gorgeous, keeping odd hours, taking veterinary school classes and getting texts she makes it a point not to respond to when he’s around.
“El guapo Roberto,” Angel hisses (in Spanish, with English subtitles). “The one you dress up for to ‘go study’ with!”
So Angel does what any loving partner would do when faced with this suspicion about the woman who wants to have a baby with him. He acquires spyware that allows him to listen in and watch her through her phone, check her texts, the works.
And then he has a wreck in the ambulance, putting him in a wheelchair. This doesn’t improve his temperament or paper over the huge flaws in his personality. How will their lives change? Will he adjust? And what about the baby plans?
Director and co-writer Carles Torras (“Open 24h” was his) keeps the foreboding in the foreground, and only dangles the occasional moments of hope that all will be well and that everybody here will find some measure of contentment.
The second act post-accident turns in the tale aren’t that far-fetched, but the third-act twists are. We aren’t properly set up for the war-of-wills “The Paramedic” evolves into.
Casas wears Angel’s bitterness like a Halloween mask. We “get” that this guy’s a dark, unsavory sort from the start. And yet Vane does not. His “No Losers in Heaven” Jesus t-shirt, post-accident, is the closest the movie comes to telling a joke — an ironic/acidic one, but there you go.
I like the ending probably more than I should. And the milieu — this world of after-hours accidents, emergency rooms and calls for the old and dying — is thinly developed, and only grappled with in the opening act.
But regardless of preliminaries, “The Paramedic” builds up to a fine, furious finale that atones for some of its first and second-act sins. It’s a mixed bag of a thriller, but short enough that one doesn’t have a lot of filler to shake off to appreciate how bleak and appropriate that conclusion feels and plays.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, sex, drugs
Cast: Mario Casas, Déborah François, Guillermo Pfening
Credits: Directed by Carles Torras, script by David Desola, Hèctor Hernández Vicens and Carles Torras. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:34