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Hierro (2009): Island of Lost Souls

Hierro (Gabe Ibáñez, 2009)

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Ah, the old water-nymph trick.

I was first exposed to Hierro thanks to novelist Wayne Simmons, who highly recommended it a couple of years back. Took me a while to get round to seeing it, but I’m very glad I did; turns out Gabe Ibáñez started out working for one of Spain’s finest directors at the moment, Àlex de la Iglesia, and it shows. Hierro is a beautifully-shot little mystery film, with fine turns by both upcoming and established actors. The script, from Javier Gullón (Invasor), isn’t anything new, but with this one, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

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This scene will not creep you out until the SECOND time you watch it.

The opening sequence is a fantastic example of both the movie’s strengths and its (what some might see as) shortcomings. We open with María (Room in Rome‘s Elena Anaya) and her son Diego (Kaiet Rodríguez in his screen debut—he has gone on to do a bit of television work since) driving at night and getting into a horrible accident. The dialogue is limited, but realistic and well-done, Anaya’s character is believable, and while there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before (the slow-motion shot of the toy car during the accident? It may not be a cliché yet, but it’s well on its way if not), but it’s all very well-done. Turns out it was only a dream—bet you didn’t see that one coming—but it ends up being a prescient one. María and Diego are on a ferry to Hierro, which Wikipedia informs me is the smallest of the Canary Islands, one day when María dozes off. When she wakes up, Diego has gone missing. She leaves the island with the usual assurances that the law will do everything they can. Which is less than a comfort when they contact her six months later to come identify a body. The kind of good news—it isn’t Diego. Which leads to the bad news—he’s not the only kid that’s gone missing, and with renewed hope that Diego may still be alive, María stays on Hierro to search for him herself. That, it turns out, may be dangerous.

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Honestly, we don’t give nearly enough credit to cinematographers. We should.

You’ve probably seen dozens of variations on this theme. I’ve seen it two or three times this year, plus read a Richard Matheson novel with a different spin on the idea (also adapted into a Spanish film, Jaume Balagueró’s Los Sin Nombre). So when the Big Reveal comes rolling along, well, you guessed it twenty minutes in. But this movie isn’t about the Big Reveal any more than American Beauty, with the Big Reveal in the opening sentence, was. Hierro is all about watching Elena Anaya do what she does best, backed up by a number of other fine performances. Special mention should also be given to cinematographer Alex Martínez (Stay Alive), who specializes in exactly this sort of claustrophobic thriller and knows just what to do with it at every turn. (The underwater shots are stunning, every one of them.) Don’t expect a timeless mystery and you’ll have a grand time with it. *** ½


About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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