[Fantastic Fest 2022 Review] VENUS

[Fantastic Fest 2022 Review] VENUS
VENUS l Fantastic Fest
VENUS is the newest horror film by Spanish director Jaume Balagueró. He started out as a film journalist and won best short film at the Sitges Film Festival with his short Alicia and made his feature debut with The Nameless, an adaptation of the Ramsey Campbell novel, But what you will really remember him for is the REC film series and Mientras Duermes or Sleep Tight. VENUS is the third film that he’s directed since REC Apocalypse in 2014.

This time, Balagueró’s inspiration comes from H.P. Lovecraft, specifically the story ‘The Dreams In The Witch House.’ The director seemed to think that VENUS was only loosely inspired by Lovecraft, but I disagree. VENUS has many connections to Lovecraft’s ethos, in my opinion, and Balagueró has made a modern Lovecraft film that manages to tell its story without leaning too heavily on standard Lovecraftian tropes and using a different setting that totally has the aura of Lovecraft’s work.

Here’s the official synopsis: “Lucía is a dancer at a techno nightclub in Madrid. After a show one night, she sneaks into the club owner’s locker and steals a big bag of ecstasy. Caught in the act by the bouncer, she manages to escape but is stabbed in the leg on the way out. Bleeding profusely and wanting to avoid the hospital, Lucía seeks refuge with her sister and young niece, who live in a rundown building on the outskirts of Madrid.

Lucía quickly senses something is very wrong with the building and the neighbors, three older ladies, are behaving strangely. When her sister disappears one morning, Lucía has no choice but to watch over her niece and protect her from what’s hiding between the walls.”

There are many things in VENUS to recommend to viewers who aren’t Lovecraft fans. Balagueró really opened up the story by setting it in Spain, specifically the outskirts of Madrid, and he’s managed to make a single building on that city’s border look like it’s located in desolate heath. One of the most important themes in Lovecraft is the isolation of the protagonists, who are often Elder God snacks, and the helpless feeling of being alone and without succor from an otherworldly force.

VENUS really makes this Lovecraftian theme work going after the exciting opening scene in a giant techno dance hall after the character Lucía takes a short drive. The story ‘The Dreams In The Witch House’ involves a witch, naturally, who is sacrificing children to gain power in a boarding house. Balagueró has taken the basic bones of the story and made it his own in VENUS.

Ester Expósito (Someone Has To Die, When Angels Sleep) as Lucía does fantastic work as an irresponsible young woman who’s going nowhere and her world turns upside down when she becomes part of a drug heist. Ángela Cremonte (Imperium) as her sister is cast well as her long-suffering, but grudgingly sympathetic sister. Inés Fernández is wonderfully precocious as Alba. Magüi Mira is perfectly cast as the matriarch of one of the only other tenants in the building.

The film also has the subplot of the gang trying to get their large bag of Ecstasy back but instead of being a jarring diversion from the main plot, the supernatural themes are present in that plot too. There’s a great scene with a witch who isn’t evil and the spell that is performed is creepy, believable, and fantastic. The gang subplot functions well to ratchet up the danger when the threat posed by the malign influences in the almost empty tower block of apartments is still out of focus.

Unfortunately, since this is early in the film’s festival run, many of the film’s credits are not complete on IMDB. The casting in VENUS is superb, especially that of the witches. The actresses do great work in their roles and the casting director, who is Balagueró’s wife does some excellent work here. The score, by Vanessa Garde (The Goya Murders), is suitably macabre and works well with the film. The cinematography is by Pablo Rosso (REC, Mientras Duermes), one of Balagueró’s longtime collaborators, and his cinematography makes you feel like you are in a permanently hazy world of shifting shadows.

VENUS is a super solid horror film that is a cut above most Lovecraft adaptations. By taking the story and making it his, Balagueró uses the free-floating dread of Lovecraft to explore the life of a woman who is forced to reckon with her own recklessness, family ties, and tentacles. I have noticed that it’s a bit of a theme that is starting to emerge in horror right now. The story of a woman who is forced to confront her own unwillingness to grow by unpleasant extraordinary circumstances. Balagueró is a filmmaker who has long put the focus on women in his films and seems genuinely interested in exploring the stories of women sympathetically, which is great. VENUS comes with my strong recommendation.

VENUS played as a part of the 2022 Fantastic Fest.

Dolores Quintana
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