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Passport Cinema: 6 Films to Keep You Awake

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Masters of Horror was a TV show whose concept was better than the final result. I loved the idea of renowned horror directors getting one hour to do whatever they pleased, even though most of their on-air efforts were sub-par at best. Not to be outdone by us Americans, Spain has offered up a similar slew of flicks, collectively titled 6 Films to Keep You Awake. Inspired by a horror anthology series from the '60s, these films feature various Spanish filmmakers, some with more horror experience than others, taking center stage and unleashing their own macabre tales upon viewers at home. Some of the movies are better than others, but these films are all unique, even the worst warranting a watch for seasoned genre buffs.

The Baby's Room – A first-time father (Javier Gutierrez) scrambles to unravel the mystery behind the spirits inhabiting his new home. There's a definite war of the genres taking place within The Baby's Room. Director Alex de la Iglesia (The Day of the Beast) never seems to make up his mind over whether he wants his film to be a stark psychological thriller or a dark comedy crammed with "Gotcha!"-style scares. This indecision results in a rather schizophrenic atmosphere, reasonable considering most of the story consists of Gutierrez's character going bonkers. The problem is that there's no sense of progression to the guy's madness; he's cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs from the word go and only gets worse from there. He's also not a very sympathetic guy, making one amazingly stupid decision after another instead of taking the time to survey his situation. I won't deny that de la Iglesia has crafted a creepy film, as the first handful of scenes are nice and spooky. But the guy does end up sacrificing reason in the name of building up a twist ending that a blind man could see coming from a mile away. The Baby's Room has its share of effective moments, but too often does it pass up one opportunity after another to be even better.

Blame – While staying with a doctor friend (Nieve de Medina), a single nurse (Montse Mostaza) struggles with the creepy consequences of choosing to abort her unborn child. Blame is one of the few recent horror films to recognize the difference between building up tension and just plain not having anything happen. Them and The Strangers suffered from this absence of action, but Blame stays on the viewer's good side by teasing them with the shape of things to come. The audience is always kept in a sense of unease here, never knowing for sure what's going on or what will happen next. The filmmakers do this by introducing several factors in the plot, from some creepy next-door neighbors to the doctor's not-so-subtle crush on her gal pal, that always keep you guessing. Such suspense is maintained even when the story starts to drift into some bizarre territory that, unfortunately, is never really resolved. If there's anything worth complaining about here, it's the ending, which feels way too rushed and leaves viewers with more than a few questions. But with an elegant feel and convincing performances, Blame has no problem replicating the sort of psychologically-based horror that fans of The Orphanage will definitely dig.

A Christmas Tale – After stumbling upon a female fugitive (Maru Valdivieslo) stuck in a pit, a group of kids try to extort the location of her stolen loot. Initially a throwback to family movies of the 1980s, A Christmas Tale proceeds to veer off in a morally ambiguous direction. [Rec] co-director Paco Plaza goes against the grain by actually depicting the kids as villains moreso than the would-be thief. After finding the crook stuck in a hole, the children devise a plot to deprive her of food to get her to give up the cash, a treatment that, no matter what her crime, she might not deserve. Plaza has a lot of fun playing the ideas of what it means to be good and bad against one another, heading into some thoughtful ethical territory when a couple of the kids start to doubt their actions. It's unfortunate that the third act, without spoiling anything, degenerates into your average stalk-and-slash scenario expecting viewers to root for the little punks they've spent so much time despising. Also, the final twist just doesn't jibe with the rest of the flick, coming across as a pretty convoluted way of giving the film a "true" horror angle. But for a good two-thirds of the running time, A Christmas Tale is a thematic success, an offbeat chiller with a decent head on its shoulders.

About A.J. Hakari