M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Five of my year-long Retro-Best in Horror I’m recapping the Countdown beginning officially on October 1, 2014 and going through September 30, 2015. I have posted compilation lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t! Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
Released on September 1, 2015. Available On Demand, digital download, and Blu-ray/DVD!
PARA ELISA (2012)
Directed by Juanra Fernández
Written by Juanra Fernández
Starring Ana Turpin, Ona Casamiquela, Luisa Gavasa, Jesús Caba, Sheila Ponce, Pep Anton Muñoz, Enrique Villén, Pablo Viña, Frederic Tomàs
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PARA ELISA might sound rather familiar, but little tweaks and subtleties make it a rather twisted and distinct small-scale horror film.
The setup is very familiar. A girl in search of quick cash calls a number posted on campus looking for a babysitter, but when the girl shows up, the job is a little more complex and a lot of horrific that she thought. In PARA ELISA, the girl is Ana (Ona Casamiquela), a wide-eyed beauty who is bothered by her philandering boyfriend Alex (Jesús Caba) and desperately wants to get out of town for a class trip with her friends to forget it all. But in order to do that she needs cash and since her mom said no to the cash flow, Ana seeks out money as a babysitter by answering an ad posted on her college campus. Once she arrives for an interview, she meets an elderly woman Diamantina (Luisa Gavasa); a name literally meaning diamond like in Spanish, but here this diamond has faded a bit as she is a former child piano prodigy who now spends her days taking care of her daughter Elisa and admiring her porcelain dolls. Ana is chastised for touching one of Diamantina’s dolls and is explained at how fragile they are. The rather extreme nature of Diamantina’s reaction should have warned Ana that everything was not on the up and up, but then there wouldn’t be a horror movie here, would there? Ana is introduced to Elisa (Ana Turpin) and immediately begins backing out of the commitment to watch her as she realizes Elisa is not a little girl, but a full grown woman dressed like a little girl and playing with dolls that look like real babies. But by then it’s too late and Ana is already too far into the lion’s den. The rest of the film is Ana’s desperate attempt to escape the apartment with a bent Diamantina and an erratic Elisa who is prone to violent fits of rage when she doesn’t get her very particular way.
Yes, this is HOUSE OF THE DEVIL meets THE BABY or SPIDER BABY or maybe more accurately, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, with a little bit of MISERY tossed in for good measure. But while the film does borrow heavily from these films, there are some pretty amazing little nuances this film uses in order to make it rather distinct. The use of creepy dolls is always a surefire way of maintaining that eerie vibe and while the porcelain ones are mildly sinister looking, the real horrors are Elisa’s dolls which look like real life mounted babies. These horrifying little creatures are often seen in the periphery of this film and definitely add levels of terror in the close quarters the film is set. These real-life babies also signify how Elisa views Ana as her own little baby doll, as if she is sick of these lifeless little creatures and now wants to up her game with a walking talking doll of her own to love and squish and hug like Elmira from TINY TOONS. Seeing the irrational child logic go on in Elisa’s head is truly terrifying, especially since Ana is the receiver of all of it.
But while a lot of the torment Ana endures has been seen before, one scene in particular stands out in PARA ELISA that really made me love this film. It’s a simple scene where Alex is desperately searching for Ana, but in the wrong building. He knocks on a door and demands to see Ana, but when the man of the house greets Alex with a shotgun, he is immediately taken aback. Asking where Ana is, the man presents “his” Ana which is another girl entirely. After Alex leaves, the girl shudders in fear from the man with the shotgun, suggesting all kinds of horrors going on in that household and an entirely different horror film. As quick as this scene is, it suggests all kinds of levels of awfulness and this film is sort of filled with little terrifying moments like this.
The performances here are awesome. Turpin’s Elisa is the epitome of innocence one minute and an explosive powder keg the next. You can’t help but root for Casamiquela to get out of this apartment of horrors alive. Both actresses do a fantastic job and though, I’m sure it was the director’s idea to make them look very similar, that is really my main fault with the film as occasionally, not having ever seen either actress before, I occasionally got confused who was who. Still the struggle between Elisa and Ana is epic, though trapped in a very tiny locale, making it all the more claustrophobic and climaxing to a level of tension few films rarely see.
On the one hand, this is a pretty simplistic trapped in a small space thriller. But there are some levels to PARA ELISA that really bored deeply under my skin. Be it references to Beethoven’s Für Elise in the title, the inundation of creepy dolls, names with subtle meanings, or throwaway scenes that really add to the tension, director/writer Juanra Fernández makes a really devious little film with sneaky terrors as well as overt ones.
THE 2014-2015 COUNTDOWN!
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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