Starring Rodolfo Sancho and Ramón Barea
Written by Santiago Díaz
Directed by Ángel Gómez Hernández
Not every horror movie needs to be earth-shatteringly profound. For every Midsommar or Get Out, sometimes a movie is content to coast along on the strength of its scares alone, never aiming to do much more than scare the willies out of an audience. Don’t Listen (Voces), Netflix’s latest in a long line of genre fare dumped on the streaming service without much fanfare (if any at all) does its damnedest to do just that– scare the ever-living Hell of its audience. Luckily, for the most part, it does.
Don’t Listen follows Daniel and Sara, a marginally defined pair of house flippers who move to a new rural manor with their 9-year-old-son, Eric, and find that their new house is what the neighbors call “the house of voices.” Soon enough, Eric starts hearing voices emanating from the walls, from under his bed, and even over the radio waves of his walkie-talkie. As the otherworldly voices escalate into real-world violence, they enlist the help of a famous EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) expert to help identify and destroy the evil in their house.
Don’t Listen shares most of its DNA with James Wan’s remuneratively terrifying The Conjuring. In fact, save for a few bold pivots, Don’t Listen almost religiously follows the blueprint of Wan’s definitive outing. The bones of almost every other haunted house movie are there, though reflected through the prism of Wan’s very particular style of scares. The jump scares come fast and often, following Wan’s formula of buildup, misdirection, stint, and then threat. Not every jump scare works, but those that do work like gangbusters.
More than anything, though, Don’t Listen has a distinctly Spanish feel, a radical and comprehensive sense of place that permeates and enlivens even the most well-worn of horror tropes. Make no mistake, Don’t Listen is astoundingly brutal. The movie pulls no punches where similar movies would have retreated, routinely ramping up the threat posed by its supernatural antagonist that had me genuinely shocked several times throughout. Don’t Listen is gnarly and mean in ways that most haunted house movies aren’t– and that includes the wallop of an ending– that even its most familiar elements felt fresh again.
In fact, parts of it feel like the seminal giallos of the 70s and 80s, especially those uncompromisingly violent and unpredictable haunted house entries like The House by the Cemetery and Shocker. Unfortunately, while it pilfers some of the most successful elements those movies had to offer, it also pilfers some of its worst. There are a few recurring inconsistencies throughout, including a protracted climax where the characters– given one simple task to complete– feel compelled to do anything but. Despite reams of evidence that the evil in the house can mimic loved ones in both voice and appearance, these ostensibly smart characters recurrently find themselves pulled away from the task at hand to wander into an adjacent room on account, for instance, of an apparition of a dead parent at a point in the movie where they really should know better. Moreover, as scary as the movie is, there really isn’t much there beyond that. There’s a tenuous thematic through-line about how grief feels like possession, but even that interpretation is probably giving the movie too much credit.
A few pitfalls aside, though, aren’t enough to rattle the steady foundation upon which this house is built. The violence is shocking, the setting is gritty, and the movie is admirably unpredictable where it matters most. Don’t Listen, like the fixer-upper that figures so centrally in its plot, is built entirely on the bones of movies that came before it. Director Ángel Gómez Hernández does enough to imbue the movie with a spirit all his own, however, rendering what would be a serviceable haunted house entry as something considerably more frightening and considerably more entertaining. Don’t Listen to just me, though– go stream it now.
Don’t Listen is available to stream on Netflix starting November 27th.
Not every jump scare in Don’t Listen works, but those that do work like gangbusters.