It would be easy to perceive David Casademunt’s The Wasteland as a quarantine movie, with a family struggling to exist in self-imposed isolation. But The Beast that plagues them is less a metaphor for a global pandemic and more one depicting the complexities of mental illness.
Conceived in 2012, The Wasteland follows Salvador, Lucía and their son Diego in 19th-century Spain. It is a country ravaged by war, and a boundary of totems is erected to protect them from the evil of man, a boundary young Diego must never cross. The stoic Salvador and gentler Lucía clash often in how to bring up their son, but when a wounded stranger arrives their insular world implodes, and a mythical Beast begins to haunt them.
This is a slow-burning tale of struggle, which fades in the later stages. Early scenes depict a close bond between mother and son, one that is tested when Salvador leaves to return the stranger’s body to his family. An event that coincides with the arrival of The Beast, its presence edging closer each night until such time as it can no longer be resisted. As the story begins to languish, a claustrophobic, intensely atmospheric and largely simple directing style, coupled with engaging performances carry the film forward. Long static shots convey the terror of isolation while a brooding soundtrack superbly enhances the emotional heft. Their pain, both internal and external is tangible.
The Wasteland is an impressive film, horrifically beautiful at times. But there is a sense of missed opportunity, as initial themes are abandoned in favour of portraying survival amidst a home invasion.
The Wasteland is available to stream on Netflix now.