In his director’s statement for The wait (La Espera), F. Javier Gutiérrez describes his latest feature as a “slow, supernatural neo-Western set in 1970s Spain.” That’s certainly an apt summary, but one that also underlines the film’s biggest problem: it tries to be too many things at once, and therefore amounts to less than the sum of its parts.
The Spanish filmmaker’s 2008 debut, Before the fall, attempted to combine a disaster movie with a home invasion movie, yielding similarly sketchy results. In both cases, Gutiérrez shows a sharp sense of style, but an inability to make something that feels truly original, despite all the genre jumps. The film, which will have its world premiere in Oldenburg, with additional dates for Sitges and Fantastic Fest, could provide decent streaming fodder for fans of international thrillers, while finding a small theatrical audience at home in Spain.
It comes down to
Solid technology in search of a stronger story.
During the rather languid opening half hour, The wait introduces us to Eladio (Victor Clavijo), a sleazy hunter who takes a job as security guard of landowner Don Francisco’s (Manuel Morón) vast Andalusian estate. He brings his wife Marcia (Ruth Díaz) and son Floren (Moisés Ruiz), setting up a new life for the family on an abandoned farm that Don Francisco lends out to hunters so they can chase wild boars.
The ‘neo-Western’ atmosphere is present from the start, with cinematographer Miguel Ángel Mora capturing the sun-drenched Spanish landscapes in elegant widescreen, then shooting extreme close-ups to focus on Eladio and his son as they practice shooting together.
However, that atmosphere doesn’t last long. A freak accident results in Floren’s death, driving his mother to suicide and setting his father on a path of rampant alcoholism, during which he not only experiences strange visions but also begins to discover all kinds of gory clues: slaughtered chickens, a goat’s head buried in dirt, a human toenail in a bowl of beef stew, bits of clothing wrapped in barbed wire – all of which led him to believe that this could all be the work of the devil.
Thus the “supernatural” part, which takes up much of the second half of the film The wait, but also leaves the viewer in the dust. Gutiérrez never manages to create an interesting main character – Eladio is a man of few words, but also of few thoughts or feelings beyond sadness – and so we’re never invested enough in his fate when all the horror stuff starts happening.
At times it feels like the director is improvising and throwing in twists as he goes, with a whole subplot involving voodoo in the backwoods that is never remotely believable or scary. He also fails to take advantage of the time setting – there’s a lot to be said about fascist-ruled Spain in the 1970s – which seems to be there purely for aesthetic purposes, allowing for lots of neutral color tones and faded vintage costumes .
Despite the narrative problems, the director reveals a certain mastery of style and tone, especially in staging the film’s handful of set pieces. He prefers steady shots and few cuts to quick, handheld confusion – this is the ‘slow-burn’ aspect – he gives a clear grammar to the wordless action, making it much more readable than the plot itself.
Gutiérrez has already made a foray into Hollywood and helped the universally panned Rings in 2017. With a bit of luck, The waitthat has the merit of being well made will allow him to tackle something more ambitious and hopefully convincing at some point in the future.