‘Sweet Home’: Film Review

Courtesy of Filmax
The lights are out, and somebody’s home

Rafa Martinez’s locked-house debut comes from Spain’s best-respected horror stable

The closing credits of Sweet Home -- one of those "tell it how it isn’t" titles -- reveal that 154 jobs were created by making it, which perhaps compensates somewhat for the multiple fictional lives bloodily lost during it. The credits also mention the Johns Carpenter and McTiernan, as well as other directors to whom debut director Rafa Martinez is clearly in debt in a project which follows high profile projects like the [REC] quartet and While You Were Sleeping out of Spain’s high-profile Filmax stable. Though Home lacks the distinctiveness of those films, it’s still likely to garner significant international sales from markets with an interest in Spanish horror: the film’s prospects are improved by its being in English.

Opening credits make a wobbly attempt to connect the plot to contemporary social issues. Stats are given suggesting that a small percentage of the many questionably legal forced evictions which leave many poor Spaniards homeless each year are carried out by hunky hooded men who, for example sprinkle cockroaches onto elderly tenants’ bath sponges to terrify them before killing them.

One such tenant, Ramon (Jose Maria Blanco) is visited by Alicia (Ingrid Garcia-Jonsson), a real estate agent who inspects houses whose owners want to sell them to speculators. Alicia takes the bizarre decision to use this frankly Gothic venue to celebrate the birthday of her depressed, somewhat ineffective boyfriend Simon (Bruno Sevilla). The lights go out: Alicia and Simon are separated, and Alicia realizes that there are men in the building, men who have killed Ramon. There are chains on the doors, the men are hooded, and it is raining very heavily indeed: happy birthday, dear Simon.

The stage is set for an efficient but uninspiring single location, real-time chiller which drags in influences from all over the place but which is too obviously the work of a fan-boy, albeit a talented one. Labored though he may be at getting things into place at the start, Martinez is skilled at set-pieces (the film’s first five minutes are wonderfully done in a deja-vu kind of way, as is the deranged final stylishly shot) and at carefully ratcheting up the tongue-in-cheek elements so that before we know it, we’re watching enjoyable nonsense -- all credibility is gone, as heads bounce down stairs, acid meets flesh and and machetes are found to be handily within reach. What gore there is, is pitched to mildly upset the mainstream viewer and to mildly excite the diehard slasher fan.

The performance of Garcia-Jonsson, who starred in Jaime Rosales’ 2014 Cannes player Beautiful Youth, keeps all the nonsense just about grounded. She’s a credible and exciting Final Girl, combining the right balance of innocence, bravery, wit and energy. Present in practically every scene, Garcia-Jonsson carries the film but is nonetheless subject to more than one leering camera angle as she desperately seeks to save her life. But it’s not easy to spot why she would have fallen for the insipid Bruno in the first place, and there’s little in their exchanges to alter that view. Pro stuntman Oriol Tarrida as the lumbering, hulking, raincoat-wearing “The Liquidator”, a kind of Hispanic update to Kharis, does a nicely charismatic job of his liquidating.

The building is probably the creepiest to be seen in Spanish film since the first [REC], and D.P. Antonio J. Garcia and production designer Sylvia Steinbrecht do it full justice, though the house’s geography is as murky to the viewer as it often is to the characters. García’s camera work is urgent hand-held, at times stomach-turningly so, but at its best it combines with good sound work to give the atmosphere a pulsating, tactile physicality. Gines Carrion Espi’s score in annoying unsubtle: the best musical moments belong to a rendition of Spanish 1973 Eurovision cheesy classic It’s You, by Mocedades, thrown in by Martinez for no apparent reason, but to nicely ironical effect.

Production company: Castelao Pictures, Film Produkcja
Cast: Ingrid Garcia-Jonsson, Bruno Sevilla, Oriol Tarrida, Jose Maria Blanco
Director: Rafa Martinez
Screenwriters: Rafa Martinez, Teresa de Rosendo, Angel Agudo
Producer: Julio Fernandez
Executive producers: Stanislaw Dziedzic, Carlos Fernandez, Adria Mones, Anna Rozalska, Klaudia Smieja
Director of photography: Antonio J. Garcia
Production designer: Sylvia Steinbrecht
Costume designer: Olga Rodal
Editor: Rafa Martinez
Composer: Gines Carrion Espi
Casting director:
Sales: Filmax
No rating, 82 minutes