Not to be outdone by the upfront, in-your-face, controversial stylishness of their French neighbours, the Spanish are proving themselves a substantial and exciting presence at the forefront of the horror genre. Second Sight Films attempt to capture the crest of this current wave of exhilarating films by releasing Isidro Ortiz's mildly unsettling Shiver, a well made little frightener from 2008 which spoils its potential impact by overplaying its plot ambiguity.
The ambiguous themes are woven into the fabric of this story from the very opening scene. The first few minutes track teenager Santi as he runs through a city street desperately attempting to shield himself from the Spanish sun, and we immediately recall myriad teenage vampire movies. Yet this is an intentional attempt to mislead the viewer, and whilst the ebb and flow of a plot can benefit from a well placed red herring and planned diversion, this opening statement of intent later feels unfair and ultimately frustrating.
For all that, Ortiz does manage to gather some impressive momentum whilst unfolding the plot, using some tried and tested methods to unsettle and unnerve. The central mechanism here is the relocation of Santi - a teenager suffering from a photo-sensitivity condition - and his mother from the familiarity of the city to the spectacularly beautiful yet intimidating mountains and sprawling forests of remote Northern Spain. As the duo drive towards the village which will define their new life, passing through black tunnels and deep valleys, Ortiz demonstrates his creativity and technical expertise as the dark shadows of clouds swallow up the rolling scenery as the car moves into the distance. It's a delicate yet effective touch which exerts a subtle, almost insidious effect, accentuated by the contrast with the beauty of the landscape and the relative optimism of Santi.
The tension remains solid as Santi and his weary mother reach the village, engulfed in the valley of enormous surrounding mountains. Yet the tension doesn't go the distance, thanks to the premature reveal. The moment of revelation itself is again rather well done, yet there's little to carry the story – or our intrigue – forward after this point, and the film is relegated into the realm of well-made, enjoyable, yet rather forgettable horror fodder.
With a certain pedigree surrounding the Shiver crew, including the producer of Pan's Labyrinth and The Orphanage, the film does benefit from the requisite level of production quality. Not only does Ortiz's technical proficiency pay dividends, but the performances prove strong too. Julio Valverde puts in a solid shift as the vulnerable and tortured young Santi, Mar Sodupe plays his long-suffering mother with suitable weariness, and Blanca Suárez (more recently seen in Pedro Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In) is excellent as Santi's warm and caring new friend in the mountainous village.
If you manage to ignore the mild irritation of the thematic red herrings here, you'll discover an enjoyable and charming though rather routine chiller. Shiver is a technically solid and well crafted effort from Ortiz, but with the strength of the competition emanating from the Spanish horror community, there simply aren't enough defining features to make this particular entry threaten its immediate rivals.
Second Sight Films have made a decent enough job of the transfer here on this region 2 encoded disc. Definition is mainly very good indeed, and the image looks remarkably clean and sound. I did notice a couple of moments of pixelation towards the end, but I'm unsure as to whether these only affect the check disc.
The colours are intentionally a little muted at times, but the stunning scenes of rolling green forests are reproduced in suitably rich and vivid style, and the darks, which play a frequent and vital role, are unwaveringly solid. Overall, the transfer is certainly a respectable one.
The supplied English subtitles can be toggled on and off via the menu. The subs are well positioned and clear, and I saw very few issues with the wording.
Audio is certainly reasonable enough in terms of clarity and delivery, with distortion not proving an issue, and levels sounding well balanced. It is a bit of a disappointment that the only audio supplied is a standard 2.0 stereo soundtrack, so don't expect anything spectacular in terms in absorbing surround sound, but the audio quality here is good enough to ensure that it complements the visuals sufficiently, and adds the appropriate impact for the jumps and shocks.
There are no extras. Sorry.
A handful of decent scares, some short-lived tension, a range of solid performances, and a spectacular scenic backdrop work well to ensure a level of quality in Isidro Ortiz's 2008 movie, yet with little to distinguish this film amongst the best of its contemporaries, it's perhaps not an experience to stay long in the mind. Overall though, if you're satisfied with a well made, routine horror, and aren't concerned with extras, you'll be happy enough with this latest entry to the exciting Spanish horror genre.