Macarena Astorga’s debut feature film The House of Snails, is a darkly complex and ambitious piece of work, based on the novel by Sandra García Nieto.
Writer Antonio Prieto rents a house for a month in a remote town where he hopes to find tranquillity and inspiration for his next novel. There he finds a community of menacing eccentrics, and horrifying superstitions. He also meets Berta to whom he is highly attracted, and Berta’s cousin Justa, who comes every day to clean for him, bringing with her her two, precociously menacing, young daughters. Gradually the people of the town become characters in his book, as he explores the legend of the local bogey-man. He also makes it his mission to find out what, or who, is the creature chained up in a local barn, being kept alive by the publican and his wife.
Javier Rey gives a solid performance as Antonio. Paz Vega is delightful as Berta, and the two have a easy on-screen chemistry. Stand-out performance is from Norma Martínez who delivers a Justa who is frightening, unlikeable, and yet oddly sympathetic. The ensemble is rounded out by sensational performances in smaller roles, each seemingly minor character adding darkness and menace to the story.
The House of Snails does a good job of the reality-becomes fiction-becomes reality trope. It trips up in simply tying to pack too much into the one narrative: the scary creature locked up; the bogey-man; the precocious children; the long-abandoned mansion; the small, superstitious, rural community. The screenplay contains so many twists and turns, that it becomes impossible to find any anchor. Leaving the audience wondering if something was real or imagined is all very fine, but not when everything is up for examination. As an audience, we are not sure who or what we are supposed to be invested in.
Despite the murkiness of the narrative arc, this is a film which delivers darkly enjoyable scenes, and some fine cinematography which makes the most of the beautiful scenery of Villanueva de Cauche, the small hamlet near Malaga, where the film was shot.
Part psychological thriller, part horror, with a touch of romance, and some sparks of humour, this is an appealing, if confusing, work from Astorga. It will be exciting to see what she brings out next.
The House of Snails is screening as part of the Moro Spanish Film Festival at Palace Nova Eastend, from April 27th to May 18th.
Click here for screening details, and to book tickets.