[Fantastic Fest 2023 Review] THE WAIT (La Espera)

Grief and guilt go hand in hand in the face of death. The things we could have done differently. The moments we now will miss with our departed ones. All the things left unsaid, the ways in which we’d turn back time to erase our sins…these elements come together in F. Javier Gutierrez’s third feature film THE WAIT (La Espera). In his quest to dive deeper, however, Gutierrez loses the strength of the film with questionable story choices in its second half.

Set in Spain in the 1970s, a rather interesting time historically, we’re introduced to Eladio (Victor Clavijo). Hired to be the groundskeeper of Don Francisco’s estate located in the isolated Andalusian countryside, Eladio relocates his family to work. Three years later, Eladio gets pressured into a deal to take a bribe and increase the number of hunting stations from 10 to 13. This potentially compromises the safety of all on the estate, but Eladio’s wife pressures him to take the money that they so desperately need.

All things go well until a fatal accident kills his son. Not long after, Eladio’s wife (Ruth Diaz) kills herself as the only thing that kept his unhappy wife going was their son. Drowning in guilt and grief, soon Eladio believes a conspiracy is afoot. Whether a conjuring within his own mind or happening, one thing is clear. Left to his own devices, Eladio’s downward descent into madness is guaranteed.

THE WAIT (La Espera) requires patience

THE WAIT (La Espera) is a slow, methodical film. It takes its time to set up the pins before rolling the ball forward to get things going. Long languid shots of the countryside, and close-ups of faces to capture every micro-expression go a long way in crafting a feeling of isolated intimacy. It’s Eladio versus the world, and the wait is heavy on his shoulders.

Things are already tense between him and his family, so all it needs is one incident to push Eladio over the edge. There’s much to be said (and that is said later on) about the consequences of greed, a grievous sin, as well as the exploitation between social classes (Don Francisco and Eladio), but it gets lost among the more horrifying elements that crop up later on.

In fact, the gradual reveal of the horror once the plot leans heavily towards conspiracy takes away from the thematic ideas that are at place in THE WAIT (La Espera). Guilt, especially given the historical and cultural influence of Catholicism in Spain, is a heavy thing, as is the consequence of greed. But the brushstrokes painted in the last 10 minutes of the film dumb down what could have been an impactful venture. Especially since it introduces an entirely new theme that begs the question, “What is free will?”

With these competing ideas fighting to be explored, THE WAIT (La Espera) gets a bit lost in the weeds. Considering the slow nature of the piece, the payoff isn’t reached.

Gets lost within its risktaking

The film itself is beautifully shot. While some may struggle to connect with Eladio, Miguel Ángel Mora’s camera captures every flicker of Victor Clavijo’s face. A man of little overt emotion, almost representative of the traditional masculinity enforced in that era, Eladio is a hard nut to crack until pushed. Without the support he’s come to rely on, we see through Clavijo’s acting, Mora’s close-ups, and Gutierrez’s direction the interior workings of this man. It is just hard to grab if you don’t know what to look for.

The horror elements evoked at times work. Other times, while looking cool, distract. There’s a transformation sequence that falls under that latter category. It’s incredibly fun to watch, but even with the reveal towards the end, it still reads as unnecessary within the grand scheme of the story. The sound editing goes a long way here to keep viewers on edge, and from that perspective, succeeds. For those concerned, there is violence against animals but it’s mostly shown offscreen.

THE WAIT (La Espera) has a lot to say, but with no clear focal point, it gets lost in what it is trying to say. There are good elements, and once again Gutierrez shows an incredible visual aptitude and direction. As far as the story, where it is strongest is in its dissection of how completely self-destructive guilt and grief can be hand-in-hand. The inclusion of a horror-based conspiracy weakens what could have been an otherwise strong take on male-focused grief, and the struggle that unfolds without aid.

THE WAIT (La Espera) had its North American Premiere at the 2023 Fantastic Film Festival.

Sarah Musnicky
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