Thursday, October 16, 2008

Schlocktober: Shiver

It is not exactly Cannes’ Un Certain Regard, but in its own way, the Pioneer Theater’s Schlocktober Fest is offering up some interesting program. In addition to gory slasher and exploitation fare, some chosen films do boast legitimate festival pedigrees. One such film is Isidro Ortiz’s Shiver (trailer here), which received its New York premiere last night at a Fangoria sponsored screening, in advance of its DVD release later this month.

Spain has suddenly become one of the leading exporters of horror films (is that like “sporror?”), and Shiver has the right lineage in Ortiz the co-director of Fausto 5.0, Junio Valverdi the star of Devil’s Backbone, and production designer Pilar Revuelta, known for his work on Pan’s Labyrinth. Set amidst a wooded valley in Northern Spain, the film’s look is quite eerie, contributing to some very creepy early scenes.

In less enlightened times teenaged Santi would be hounded as a suspected vampire. He suffers from severe photo-sensitivity, which is why he and his mother relocate to the isolated valley, obscured by clouds and shadows. It is a grim place, but it allows him to attend school during the day for a change. However, there is not peace in the valley. Something in the woods has been butchering sheep, and escalates to people inconveniently around the time Santi moves into town.

Shiver starts out as a highly effective little horror film, making the most of its Twins Peaks ambiance and coldly austere sets. Unfortunately, once Shiver shows what the “it” is, the film loses much of its bite. Since the audience sees the thing in the woods well before the picture’s halfway point, it is not much of a spoiler to reveal it is a feral girl-child wreaking such death and destruction. Essentially, Shiver is the Spanish horror version of Truffaut’s Wild Child (which incidentally will have a revival run at Film Forum in November).

Ortiz still holds the film together fairly well, even though the “monster” often looks ridiculous. He stills builds situational suspense, even when resorting to clichés like the shaky camcorder footage recorded in the ominous woods. At least when his characters break the rules of horror movie survival, they know what they are doing, and do not feel good about it. His young cast is generally credibly, including Valverdi as a reasonably likable Santi, despite his occasional whiny angst.

Although undercut at times by the visual weaknesses of it’s peculiar “wolf in the woods,” Ortiz and Revuelta maintain the spooky vibe throughout Shiver, raising it several cuts above the standard genre fare slated for release this Halloween. It seems odd it will not have a real theatrical run before its impending DVD release, since the success of films like The Orphanage and Pan’s Labyrinth would seem to have primed audiences for more Spanish horror. While not as accomplished as those films, as a horror programmer Shiver has its merits.