A biblical conspiracy. Possessions. Spider-like demon creatures that this reviewer would elect not to hug ever. These are elements of religious horror that may come across as familiar to horror fans. However, in HBO’s latest horror series, 30 COINS, we see these elements taken and built upon, revealing a thought-provoking series that will leave viewers hooked and wanting desperately to know what is going to happen next. At the time of the review, we had access to the first seven episodes of the series. And, reader, we honestly can’t wait to know how this high-intensity, drama-filled series ends in its climactic finale. And, as this reviewer’s introduction to Álex de la Iglesia‘s horror mastery, 30 COINS is a hell of an introduction.
30 COINS follows Father Vergara (Eduard Fernández), an exorcist, sent away by the church, to become the local priest of Pedraza, a remote town in Spain. Having been there for only a brief time, strange things start taking place in this small-town community that starts planting the seeds of fear and doubt among its people. These strange incidents bring local vet Elena (Megan Montaner) and the town’s mayor, Paco (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), together, with each new supernatural happening bringing them closer. As the noose starts to tighten around this odd trio, the intricate web starts to reveal itself. And the heart of the supernatural drama centers around a single silver coin. One of the coins that had been given to Judas as payment for his ultimate betrayal against Jesus Christ. It’s not long before the true depths of conspiracy that they’ve all found themselves trapped in sucks them into a battle of good versus evil.
No time is wasted in the series’ opening minutes. What starts off as a bank heist turns into something more when we see the thief move undaunted after being shot multiple times. It isn’t until he gets into a car with a priest that our hackles rise higher. When the priest removes a medallion around the thief’s throat, the man slumps over dead. This is just a glimpse into the dark nature of the Catholic church presented in 30 COINS. The lengths to which this faction will go to secure what they believe is theirs knows no bounds. de la Iglesia and co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarría make sure the viewer knows immediately how layered the details are with just that opening scene. And that care and consideration to creating a multi-layered, high-stakes drama carry throughout the remainder of the series, showing brilliantly with each episode the two tackle.
With such an adrenalin-filled hook, de la Iglesia makes sure to slow the pacing down by utilizing the small town of Pedraza as a rest-point. At least, in the beginning. As viewers will come to discover, the town and its people are not to be spared of action. No, they are at the epicenter of a great deal of horror that will raise tensions among its citizens and have them question everything they know, including each other. These events, however, provide ample opportunity for de la Iglesia and Guerricaechevarría to explore the intricacies of the relationships within the town. This exploration provides a meatiness to the series that allows the viewer to invest further and genuinely care about what happens to the town’s occupants – imperfections and all.
The viewer sees these dynamics explored through the main trio of characters – Father Vergara, Elena, and Paco. As the most recent transplant to Pedraza, Father Vergara (Eduard Fernández) is the man of mystery to unravel. His hesitation to open up to the residents and the increasing suspicious events that rattle the town’s routine since his arrival puts a target on his back. Elena (Megan Montaner) and Paco (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), meanwhile, find themselves joining together, with bumps and bruises along the way. Elena’s enthusiasm in trying to get things solved means dragging Paco into the mix as town mayor. The frequency of their meetings aggravates the tenuous relationship that Paco has with his wife, Merche (Macarena Gómez). Gómez, in all honesty, is a real MVP in this series and – hopefully – will get further attention should 30 COINS get renewed for a second season. In general, a big shout out should be given to casting, because each and every character is played to perfection.
While the town of Pedraza itself is the primary focus of the series, the scale of production on 30 COINS cannot be ignored. With a plot that finds our characters all over the globe, we get a full idea of how far the conspiracy goes without it feeling too bombastic. Partial credit to this has to do with how well the production and set design were handled in making things look and feel natural rather than overtly cinematic. Credit also, once again, needs to be given to the writing. While we are taken all across the globe, each episode always finds a way to keep us focused partially on the events going on in Pedraza. This writing decision greatly benefits the storyline as it keeps the viewer from diverting attention away and again, keeps us centered on the humanity of the series in the process.
30 COINS is exciting, providing a variety of twists and turns that will keep viewers on edge until the very end. While there is plenty of horror for all to enjoy, the real focus of the series is in its characters. Not just the main trio, but also those who occupy the small town of Pedraza. It is through the exploration of the town’s relationships and drama that you find the humanity of the series. These people are not perfect by any means. They are all imperfect sinners, but they represent the audience and remind us of the true stakes at play here. For those who have never seen an Álex de la Iglesia’s project, this series is a great starting point. For fans of the horror master, you honestly can’t miss out on his latest venture.
The eight-episode series, 30 COINS, debuts today at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT, with the first two episodes airing back-to-back on HBO. The series will also be available to stream on HBO Max.
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