REVIEW: FOR ELISA / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JUANRA FERNANDEZ / SCREENPLAY: JUANRA FERNANDEZ / STARRING: ANA TURPIN, ONA CASAMIQUELA, LUISA GASAVA / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 30TH
Named after the Beethoven composition Für Elise, Para Elisa is a Spanish horror film with a simple enough premise. Ona Casamiquela is Ana, a fine arts student (in a role that you could imagine starring a younger Jennifer Connolly) who takes a babysitting job that quickly turns sinister. While the sum of its parts are innocuous and trite, together it makes for a surprisingly compelling film.
Dolls are innately creepy and a staple of the horror genre, from Dolly Dearest, to Child’s Play and Jigsaw’s tricycle-riding mascot in the Saw series, but they’ve lost a lot of cultural prevalence and potency as a trope. The unsettling elements of Para Elisa aren’t related to the idea of dolls, per se, but more a fear of adolescence, and Elisa’s dependence on her mother is rather unnerving.
Ana Turpin is chilling as the titular Elisa, reminiscent of Kathy Bates in Misery, but it’s her mother Diamantina, played by Luisa Gavasa, who steals the film, decked out like a demented Maude from Hal Ashby’s cult classic.
There’s some pretty spooky stuff here too, made spookier off camera, relying only on the sound. Just because you can show something doesn’t mean you should; cinema, at its best, functions on trickery and illusion.
At only 75 minutes long, Para Elisa manages to create tense and claustrophobic interactions between Elise and Ana alongside the sleuth element of Ana’s off-again-on-again boyfriend Alex (played by Jesús Caba) attempting to find her.
Whether or not Para Elisa is supposed to be a comment on the frivolous and fickle fashion industry or the preservation of youth is unclear. In many ways the narrative would have worked very well as a short story, intertwining Gothic aspects with adolescence as in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber.
The most exciting and transgressive horror cinema is coming out of Europe, and Spain, in particular, has really been delivering the goods over the last twenty years or so: The Devil’s Backbone, The Orphanage and Tesis are all great examples. While Para Elisa doesn’t quite step up to the plate, it’s a notch above a lot of twaddle getting churned out.