“Spain, 1950s. Montse’s agoraphobia keeps her locked in a sinister apartment in Madrid and her only link to reality is the little sister she lost her youth raising. But one day, a reckless young neighbor, Carlos, falls down the stairwell and drags himself to their door. Someone has entered the shrew’s nest… perhaps he’ll never leave.” — IMDb
Amazingly enough Shrew’s Nest (also known as Musarañas, Spanish for “shrews”) is the first for its two directors, Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel. It’s firmly in the thriller/drama realm of things, and the way they built up the tension and the heartbreaking backstory between the two main characters — especially within such tight quarters — is brilliant.
The story centers around Montse (the incredible Macarena Gómez) — agoraphobic, nervous, and paralyzingly afraid of her familiar life changing. She spends most of her days caring for her younger sister (Nadia de Santiago), who has recently turned 18 and is yearning for a life outside the walls of their home. Montse has spent most of her life caring for her sister — forced to abandon her childhood when her mother died during childbirth and her father disappeared during the war — a reality that she seems to both detest and crave. When an injured neighbor (Hugo Silva) appears at the doorstep, Montse starts thinking that maybe her life could change, and it does, but not in the way she expected…
** SPOILERS! **
First and foremost, the film is beautifully shot and styled. It takes place almost entirely in their apartment set in 1950’s Spain, and you do get a very claustrophobic feeling from it, but there’s also an intimacy, a familiarity, with the space by the time the movie finishes.
Macarena Gómez as Montse is just fantastic. She manages to embody a huge array of emotions throughout the film — from desperation to panic to suffocating protection to an almost blind rage — and she does so brilliantly. Her show of emotion is complex and deep, and you find yourself vacillating at times between being frustrated with her and empathizing with her.
I appreciated the feminist undertones, whether intentional or not, of literally escaping the patriarchy. Montse — and, in turn, her sister — is stuck under the thumb of her father even in his death, and her growing strength and resilience in the face of that oppression is awesome to see, even if it doesn’t always go in the greatest direction.
It does, of course, bring Misery to mind, though it’s more focused on the captor in this instance than the captive neighbor. We don’t learn a whole lot about Carlos’s personality, though we do find out a bit about his personal life when the younger sister goes snooping around, and it adds an interesting dynamic in the sense that while he’s not excited about the turn things take towards the end, he’s okay with escaping from his own life for a while, even in such bizarre circumstances.
The film relies mostly on very subtle, slow tension until it eventually explodes at the end, which I loved. It doesn’t insist on jump scares or special effects, and even when things DO get crazy it isn’t overly gory for the sake of it — though there’s some TRULY cringe-worthy moments (like the forced removal of a sheet that had been sewn to Carlos’s leg…).
I also loved that it didn’t only explode into violence and chaos… it also revealed a HUGE plot twist. Like… huge enough that I don’t even want to reveal it here, even under the warning of spoilers. It was a perfectly done reveal, one that I really didn’t see coming (though in retrospect maybe I should have), and really tied together so many loose ends in the movie.
Ultimately a really fantastic and well done movie that I was super happy to stumble upon!
Rating: 7/10 | Director: Juanfer Andrés, Esteban Roel | Writer: Juanfer Andrés, Sofía Cuenca | Cinematography: Ángel Amorós | Music: Joan Valent | Starring: Macarena Gómez, Nadia de Santiago, Hugo Silva, Luis Tosar