★★★ / ★★★★
After living abroad for over forty years, Tomás (Jordi Dauder) decides to go back to his small Spanish village because someone has sent him a tarot card. The card, labeled los amantes, is an important symbol from his youth. Cut to sixteen-year-old Tomás (Juan José Ballesta) and his two friends (David Arnaiz, Adrián Marín) discussing a woman named Moira (Natalia Millán) while supposedly studying. Though new in the village, she has received a reputation of being a whore. Because of the hot weather, one of them suggests that the possibility of her naked is likely so they sneak up to her house to spy on her. Meanwhile, the adults have reason to believe that Moira is a bruja, a witch.
Though not particularly scary, “Regreso a Moira,” written by Mateo Gil and Igor Legarreta, is a beautifully made picture. It juggles the past and the present with rhythm; it is more concerned about telling a story that is rooted in the reality of its characters, posing questions, and answering them rather than delivering jolts. It does have some creepy moments involving ghosts but if the more obvious supernatural elements had been taken out completely, it would have preserved some of its mystique.
A specific time and place is created. Its approach in telling the story is intercutting older Tomás’ return with younger Tomás’ first time falling hard for a woman he barely knows. Since more than half of the film takes place in the past, we get used to images of open spaces: the dried grass of summer, the heat settling on one’s skin, and the wind providing temporary comfort. When it does cut to the present, the same place looks a lot smaller: the open field is replaced by modern buildings and the silence is taken over by sounds of vehicles and chattering of people passing by. But just like how it is in real life, though geography changes significantly, a few things remain unchanged.
I enjoyed the way young Tomás’ sexuality is treated. Eventually, an intense attraction grows between Tomás and Moira, but it is consistently tender and never perverse. The latter direction would have been so tempting because the woman is at least ten years older than the boy. Instead, the director helms the memory almost like a dream, thereby allowing a genuine sensuality to be felt and thought about. When Tomás touches Moira’s naked body, there is an innocence that is conveyed right down to his fingertips. We get the sense that the filmmakers know how it is like to love someone.
It does not quite work as a straight forward horror film. It is typical in that the ghost appears in places we might expect like in a hotel bathroom and in the backseat of the car. Because I felt what was coming, I was not shocked or horrified. I did feel a bit creeped out, however. As a mood piece, it works. The camera has an inclination toward lingering on certain images.
“Spectre,” directed by Mateo Gil, works because it is mostly rooted in drama. It deals with real emotions by employing the supernatural as a backdrop. If in-your-face ghost encounters had been taken out in place of a meaningful exploration of the community’s devotion to their religion, it might have made a stronger statement about what it means to be human and trying to find some sense in something that appears to be unexplainable or beyond understanding.