Made in: Spain
Synopsis: Santi (Junio Valverde) is a lonely teenager living in Barcelona with his mom, Julia (Mar Sodupe). He suffers from a condition called Photophobia, where he’s hypersensitive to sunlight. As a result, he can’t really do much during the day.
Other kids his age think he’s a freak, his father, Oscar (Paul Berrondo), is a compulsive gambler, and his best friend Leo (Jimmy Barantán) is a pop culture geek who’s as much of an outcast as he is.
At the advice of his doctor, Santi and his mother relocate to a remote village in the north, where the days are known for being short. The house they find is a little rustic, but it has all the necessary amenities for modern life.
But as in most horror movies, it comes complete with spooky shadows, window shutters that rattle really easily, and an attic full of stuff that belonged to the previous tenants. Yup, that’s right. Nothing out of the ordinary around here…
The landlord, Dimas (Francesc Orella), seems okay, and although school isn’t great, it’s not as bad as it was in the big city. Santi befriends Tito (Pau Poch), a kid who’s small for his age, and Ángela (Blanca Suárez), the attractive daughter of the local police inspector, Antonio (Roberto Enríquez). But before Santi can settle in, he learns that there’s something strange about this quiet little town.
Something scary lives in the woods, and it’s known for viciously attacking livestock. When it starts killing people, Santi just always happens to be around. Naturally, he’s blamed for the deaths, or at least he’s suspected of being a part of them. But as the frights escalate, Santi tries solving the mystery himself with the help of his friends. And before long, he uncovers a dark secret about the small town…
The Good: Cinematically, Shiver looks great and much credit should be given to production designer Pilar Revuelta (who worked on Pan’s Labyrinth).
The story moves at a good pace, and unlike horror movies done in the US, the acting here is very good. Although the storyline isn’t too different from a scary movie that you’d see Stateside, the higher caliber of acting gives the film more depth and intelligence.
The bloodshed isn’t over-the-top. In fact, since many of the gory scenes take place in shadows or under shaky flashlight beams, director Isidro Ortiz leaves much of the horror to your imagination. Shiver contains plenty of solid suspense, and instead of going for cheap, jump-out-at-you scares, most of the creepiness is carefully constructed and plays more upon simple fears (being home alone, thunderstorms, lost in the woods, etc).
The Bad: Shiver doesn’t make full use of all its major elements. Santi’s photophobia is interesting, but it never plays out in a major way. It would have been better if, for instance, his “handicap” became a strength at certain times. If he can’t come out during the day, then it’s only logical to assume that he’s at his best during the night. But no. Here, he’s as scared of the dark (and ineffective in it) as anybody.
Tito has the potential to be an interesting character, but he sort of just disappears halfway through the story. And the love interest, Ángela, is underdeveloped as well. Without spoiling the ending, there are also some minor questions of logic that’ll bother you if you think about them too much.
Who would like this movie: You should watch Shiver if you’re fan of foreign films, and horror movies (particularly Spanish ones) that are focused more on scares than gore. Parts of the movie will make you think of movies such as Sleepy Hollow, Lost Boys, and maybe even the Blair Witch Project.
The overall premise is pretty familiar, but it’s told very well. I suppose this counts as a teen movie in some ways, but it doesn’t look cheesy nor does it insult anyone’s intelligence.
There are no boob shots (which may be a disappointment to some), and since it’s made in a country with no drinking age, I was mildly surprised to see that none of the main characters (or victims) got trashed. Perhaps that a cultural thing, which proves that foreign films are indeed educational.
For the most part, Shiver is an engaging thriller. It’s not perfect, but it easily surpasses a lot of Hollywood stuff aimed at a similar demographic.
(3 out of 4 stars)
Director: Isidro Ortiz
Starring: Junio Valverde, Mar Sodupe, Blanca Suárez, Francesc Orella, Jimmy Barnatán, Roberto Enríquez, Paul Berrondo, Pau Poch
Review written by: Joe Yang