Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring Elena Anaya, Hugo Arbues, Jon Ariño, Miriam Correa
Directed by Gabe Ibáñez
Being introduced by Alan Jones at this year’s Film4 Frightfest as a film comparable in content and quality to the fantastic Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage certainly raised expectations among the audience for director Gabe Ibáñez’s first feature film, Hierro. All the more palpable, then, was the disappointment when the credits began to roll.
Hierro follows the plight of Maria (Elena Anaya), who loses her son Diego (Kaiet Rodriguez) after falling asleep on a ferry ride to “El Hierro”, an island at the most Southern point of Europe. When a search of the ship by the crew and police, along with further public enquiries, lead nowhere Maria is forced to abandon her search. Six months later, Maria – now almost a completely broken woman – is contacted when the body of a child is discovered in the waters near El Hierro. Called in to identify the body as her son’s, Maria denies that the body is his. Insisting on a DNA test to confirm this, the police advise that Maria must stay on the island for three days so that a specialist can be brought in.
These three days prove to be more than Maria bargained for, as she discovers a further child is missing on the island, and catches glimpses of her son near a mysterious caravan. To explain any further would likely spoil the movie as it is, unfortunately, a ridiculously simple story. There’s a twist, of course, but it’s so basic you’ll see it coming a mile away.
There are two things which prevent Hierro from being completely uninteresting – Anaya’s mesmerizing performance as Maria, and Ibáñez’s visuals. An animator by trade before making this film, Ibáñez has an absolutely incredible grasp on visuals. The car accident which opens the movie is an astounding display of slow-motion shards of twinkling glass, jerking bodies and flying objects. Maria’s nightmares are like a fantastic music video, with CGI enhancing the images almost beyond comprehension. It’s not only action scenes, however, that are masterfully framed – almost every set piece, every vista, every scene in this film is meticulously crafted on a visual level. One scene involving Maria momentarily defeating her fear of water in the ocean is, quite simply, absolutely beautiful.
It’s simply such a shame, then, that the story itself is bland in the extreme. If you haven’t already figured it out well before the end, the twist may get you on an emotional level but the path there holds absolutely no surprises. Attempts at scares also fail to have any effect, with the requisite loud noises and slamming doors simply being much too cliché to be genuinely useful.
Ibáñez will very likely (and deserves to) find success with a better script with this particular piece of work on his resumé, but to truly exceed he will need to focus hard on his grasp of storytelling and how to effectively manipulate the audience. The visuals in Hierro are nothing short of art, but that shouldn’t play second fiddle to the story in a narrative-based film. It may be worth a watch if you have nothing better to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon or if you’re interested in just how good the visuals and cinematography are, but if you’re watching it to be entertained or thrilled then prepare to be disappointed. Certainly don’t take any comparisons to the emotionally effective work of Guillermo Del Toro, or Bayona’s The Orphanage, to heart.
2 out of 5
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