[Panic Fest 2023 Review] THE ELDERLY

“Being old is gross.”

Aging might concern a lot of people as they struggle with a slowed metabolism, earlier bedtimes, and the inability to stay hip. But what people really fear is not the slight changes, but the sudden realization that you are now elderly. Middle age offers up a bunch of new challenges but when living as an octogenarian, every daily task can prove difficult. The Spanish horror film THE ELDERLY relies a lot on the creepy aesthetic many associate with elderly people by casting a significant number of aged actors and actresses.

Their thinning hair and wrinkled skin serve as a reminder to everyone that not only is the older generation different from the rest of us, but they are also closer to the grave. Playing at Panicfest 2023, writer/ director Raúl Cerezo with co-director Fernando González Gómez present a heart-piercing script, which combines with an atmospheric score and haunting cinematography all of which will immerse the audience in a creeptastic exposure to elder horror.

THE ELDERLY starts with a radio announcing the upcoming soaring temperatures that will make life miserable for most but also prove extremely dangerous for the elderly. Throughout the film, the story will pause to present the viewer with a graphic showing the current temperature. Starting at 39.9 Celsius (already over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and rising should increase our anxiety and fear for the aged Manuel (Zorion Eguileor), but as the story progresses, we realize the younger generations are the ones in danger.

Also in the opening sequence, an old woman wakes in the middle of the night, apparently aroused by unseen voices. She approaches an open window and immediately plummets to the street below. The reason for the fall remains mysterious, but a hint of suspicion does get directed at her husband Manuel. The temps and the late-night death perfectly establish the enigmatic and dread-filled atmosphere that the audience will experience for the rest of the film.

With the sudden and horrific death of the aged matriarch and concerns for the safety of his senile father, Mario (Gustavo Salemerón) must now take care of his elderly father. Along with Mario’s pregnant wife Lena (Irene Anula) and his daughter, Naia (Paula Gallego) from a previous marriage, they all have Manuel move in with them.

Not everyone in the family is completely on board with housing the old man and these uncomfortable feelings for Manuel only get worse as strange occurrences seem to follow the aged man as well as the other elderly citizens of the town. The aging grandfather cannot comprehend life without his beloved, so now he struggles with his memory and how he interacts with his surroundings. Mario dismisses the odd behavior as just a broken old man, but his daughter Naia fears something more sinister might be plaguing her abuelo.

THE ELDERLY combines elements of supernatural terror such as hauntings and nightmarish images as well as modern angst with topics like unemployment and the fear of aging. However, I am not sure if all of these elements coherently unite for a cohesive story. The ending does bring everything together, but the build-up to the final moments might have some people anxious for a little more forward momentum. However, with so many elder horror films focusing on Alzheimer’s and dementia, this film provides enough of a twist to keep this subgenre interesting.

Overall, THE ELDERLY slowly pulls the viewer into a scorching hot story filled with fear and the unknown, which only gets bleaker as the world begins to melt around us.

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