Abuela: criticism of a geriatric terror


Even though it was one of the most significant events in Gérardmer’s programming, Abuela divided some festival-goers. The subject of contention? The introductory scene, which hardly conceals the ins and outs of the feature film, even which blithely spoils its stakes for those who have seen more than three fantastic films in their life. Unforgivable awkwardness for some, this strange sequence nevertheless contributes remarkably to the singularity of the whole, and the fear it inspires.

Plaza takes the opposite view of the traditional openings of productions of the genre, which seek to spare their mystery. The note of intent shines through from the first minutes. His film will not be a twisted horror thriller, but a long descent into hell towards a resolution whose inevitability echoes its initial subject: the personal tragedy of old age. Its characters face their story arc as they face their own end, both petrified by the thought of impending death, and worse still, the transformation of the body.

Two very involved actresses

Transformations that the filmmaker sometimes films as a reality that is denied, sometimes as a nightmarish process. If he does not hesitate to display the nudity of an elderly body, an image rarely shown in cinema and yet banal, he also stages a rather tetanizing nightmare sequence, where our heroine sees her body decaying in real time. Or how to crystallize a fundamental concern, because one of the only ones to be founded. Generally working in a refined fantasy cinema, Plaza returns to the original power of the genre: that of highlighting our little anxieties to better crunch human nature.

Fact, Grandmother fits very well into his filmography. The film is very collected, uses camera without ever restricting itself to it, and remains above all entirely devoted to its themeincluding thanks to its screenplay. We therefore follow two women, grandmother and granddaughter, confronted with a form of old age. The first deals with the last years of his life. The second, a model about to break through, fights against the express expiry of Western beauty standards. Their reunion, due to an accident that renders the granny in the title mute, will further weaken a protagonist who literally sees her image disappear from the public space.

Of course, by weakening, we mean tyrannizing, if possible by pouring largely into the supernatural. Because the Abuela in question, played by the impressive Vera Valdez, herself a model in her day, does not wish her well, and she will not be content to haunt the dreams of her granddaughter Susana (Almudena Amor). Gradually, the specter of senescence seizes themand with remarkable efficiency.

Photo Vera ValdezA cozy apartment

Old but quality

Before being the sincere pioneer of an old-fashioned fantasy ([REC] worked on the ancestral fear of the image; Veronica explored, to a lesser extent, that of urban myth), Paco Plaza is above all an aesthetic experimenter. Many still maintain that he will never do anything more terrifying than the choreographed sequence shots of [REC]but it must be recognized Grandmother a rather impressive sense of staginga fortiori in the era of the decadence of Conjuring-like Americans and their mass-produced gimmicks.

Aging is as much a subject of study as a medium of terror which the director makes the most of, thanks to a few unsustainable camera movements or – and this is probably the most amazing thing – a sense of composition that belongs only to him. The visual parallels made between the two characters could seem vulgar if they did not emanate an unhealthy strangeness, as during the sequence of the mirrors, almost too precise not to raise the hairs, where that of the bathroom , yet a very common cliché.

Photo Almudena LoveThe mirror, a cliché yet very well used here

In the same way that he lets the decrepitude of the resident of the place rot his main decor, a classic apartment which actually conceals dark corners. Susana sleeps squarely between the field and the off-screen, as if she were on the brink of slipping definitively into darkness. The stakes having been revealed in the opening, the fear inspired by Pilar becomes a kind of sword of Damocles for the heroine and the spectator, who is suspicious of her as soon as he sees her for the first time. He thus enters directly into Susana’s psyche, suspicious of anything that reminds her of the fatality of her destiny.

Fate that Plaza, very happy to have immediately got rid of the usual narrative constraints, translated by long panoramic shots, all the more trying as they reveal nothing that we do not already know: a sadistic face perched on a window, the horror of death. Once again, it relies less on a surprise effect than on dramatic irony and inspires us in passing with some beautiful nightmares. Until a last act announced by a morbid countdown (the birthday, another symbol of passing time), certainly a little weaker than the rest, but which concludes without concession this “possession film in which the devil grows old” (Paco Plaza in the crazy movies #358).

We come out worried and ready to ruthlessly tear out the slightest wild white hair. No doubt this is the desired effect.

Abuela: French poster

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