Scrawny, cadaverous and creepy, actor Javier Botet has graced many a chilling moment in Hollywood horror films — “The Mummy” and “It” and “Conjuring 2” among them. The man has a marketable “look.”
But he achieves something like a break-out performance in a film shot and set in his native Spain. “Amigo” is a simple, chilling and sometimes grimly-amusing two-handed thriller directed and co-written by Óscar Martín, a video game and short film veteran finally making his feature directing debut. Its a film whose minimalism only heightens its suspense and narrows and sharpens the focus of its intensity.
A long, mostly dialogue-free opening shows us David (David Pareja) patiently loading his broken and emaciated friend Javi out of his old Fiat and into a wheelchair. It’s 1980 or thereabouts, and David has taken in his paralyzed childhood “amigo.”
It takes a while to establish that Javi is in this state due to an accident. It takes almost as long for us to figure out if he can speak. Even the visiting physical therapist (Patricia Estremera) has a hard time getting a peep out of him.
How noble of David to take him in, we think. How loyal he must be, accepting this responsibility and burden. I mean, sure, he can still carry on his affair with a married paramour. But David’s plainly giving up a lot, devoting himself to caring for this friend who could die soon, or could linger for years and years.
As the physical therapy kicks in, David locates a bell Javi can ring when he needs to go to the bathroom or wants something to eat or drink.
But the bell, the halting “You don’t get it, I want to die” (in Spanish with English subtitles), the Christmas blizzard that shuts down David’s supply of the pills that keep him sane, all merely set the table for the suspense to come.
And when it comes, who will turn out to be the more paranoid? Who will wonder if the other is faking paraplegia or faking sincere “caring,” and who will wonder if the supernatural is involved?
The chills are limited to the odd creepy moment — a passing shadow glimpsed out of the corner of your eye, when you think you’re the only person on your feet here, creaking floorboards in a remote country house, a bell that might be ringing by itself.
Botet and Pareja, who co-wrote this, play up the mistrust and the uncertainty in characters who have conflicting story arcs, each beginning at one point and evolving towards the other character’s starting point of view.
The surprises here aren’t that surprising, any more than the film’s tensest moment, which is brilliantly excruciating and beautifully shot and edited.
That helps the simple, understated “Amigo” achieve a jolt or two and a laugh or three as it takes us into the darker corners of guilt, revenge, friendship and commitment.
Rating: unrated, graphic violence, nudity, sex
Cast: Javier Botet, David Pareja
Credits: Directed by Óscar Martín, scripted by
Óscar Martín, Javier Botet, David Pareja. A Dekanalog release.
Running time: 1:23