32 Malasaña Street (2020)
★★ / ★★★★
Not twenty-four hours have passed since having moved to Madrid when members of the Olmedo family begin to experience strange happenings in their flat, former residence of an old woman (Almudena Salort) who died in 1972. It has been four years since her passing and yet when the new owners move in, it appears as though the deceased hasn’t yet perished. Her personal belongings—clothes in the closet, appliances on kitchen counters, record player in the living room—remain where they were. The only difference between 1972 and 1976 is the dust that settled on surfaces. It is supposed to be a new start for the humble Olmedos, who come from a farming village, but they have no idea about the nightmare they just walked into.
Albert Pintó’s “32 Malasaña Street” is a proud old-school supernatural horror. Although there are jump scares executed in a modern fashion, quick cuts and all, these rarely function as punchlines. Instead, actual scares root themselves in highly vulnerable situations—like lying in bed and suspecting that something from a few feet away is moving about in the darkness or looking at grandpa (José Luis de Madariaga) and suspecting it’s not really him or that a simple thing like taking your eyes off a five-year-old in order to take care of something urgent could lead to a life or death situation—these are milked until breaking point. This is not an ordinary haunting in which the solution lies in simply moving out.
The picture brings to mind James Wan’s “Insidious” and “The Conjuring” in that Pintó attempts to tell a story in a slow and methodical manner coupled with genuine humanity in its center. Notice that after the required ten-minute move-in scene, it is wall-to-wall scares, one event leading to another until a big revelation in the end (a curiosity but not explored enough). At the same time, the familiar template is a double-edged sword: Why see this this film when its aforementioned contemporaries are not only more potent story-wise but also the craft behind such scares are far more creative and realized? Here is a movie that neglects to offer an excellent reason why it is special on its own.
I enjoyed the performances, particularly by Begoña Vargas as the protective eldest sister named Amparo and Iván Renedo as the vulnerable spectacled youngster Rafi. We spend so much time with these two, particularly Amparo who yearns to get job that would take her away from her family, that we believe the strength of their bond despite the age difference. I wished, however, that the middle sibling, Pepe (Sergio Castellanos), is given more to do than to send and receive notes via clotheslines. There appears to be a girl living in the apartment across the street, but we see only glimpses of her—which is almost never a good sign.
There are a few standout sequences that showcase Pintó’s skill as a storyteller: Rafi sitting in front of the television as the puppet on screen begins to talk to him, the remaining Olmedos breaking into a vacant flat to search for a missing family member, and the family realizing that their dream home is in fact diseased. In each of these scenes, when the camera moves and it is utterly silent, we cannot help but to hold our breaths. We already know what’s coming… and yet we allow ourselves to be manipulated into being scared.