REVIEW: Cinema Release: Hierro

Film: Hierro
Release date: 18th June 2010
Certificate: 12A
Running time: 89 mins
Director: Gabe Ibanez
Starring: Elena Anaya, Nea Segura, Mar Sodupe, Andrés Herrera, Miriam Correa
Genre: Mystery/Drama/Thriller
Studio: Optimum
Format: Cinema
Country: Spain

For the last half-decade, Spain seems to have been establishing itself as the place to go if you want to indulge in imaginative and atmospheric spine-tinglers. Films like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Orphanage (2007) have gone on to win over both international audiences and critics alike with their compelling storylines and interesting visuals. This leads us to Hierro, Spain’s latest export proudly sporting the now attractive: “From the Producers of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage” marketing hook on its poster.

A single mother – María (Ellen Anaya) – takes time off work to be with her young son Diego (Kaiet Rodríguez). They take the ferry to El Hierro (situated within the Canary Islands) for a vacation. However, María’s son goes missing mid transit, which results in an extensive search of the ferry and surrounding port once the vessel has docked, but to no avail. Diego has disappeared.

Time has passed, and María is seemingly coming to terms with her loss, but has developed a phobia of the water, which is all the more frustrating considering that she works in a sea-life centre/aquarium.

She receives a call from the Hierro police stating that they have found the corpse of a young boy and need her to identify the body. María, along with her friend Laura (Bea Segura), travel back to the foreboding shores of Hierro where María, based on a chance encounter that she has on a desolate beach, soon becomes convinced that her son is still alive…

The film starts in promising fashion: opening on a minor character driving through the mountains with her young son, which makes way for a startling and interestingly realised car crash whereby the son simply vanishes during the aftermath of the wreckage before the mother regains consciousness. In retrospect, this scene merely sets a trend for things to come: a film with plenty of visual flash but absolutely no weight and a severe lack of emotional punch. In fact, it’s surprising just how bland and by-the-numbers Hierro is, even while it basks in its professional and stylish light.

The main problem is a severely underwritten script that borrows quite heavily from The Orphanage. Both films centre on a woman searching for their missing child in an isolated and unfamiliar locale, but while The Orphanage creates a genuine foreboding and uneasy mise en scène with a supernatural undercurrent, Hierro, by compassion, feels somewhat watered down and tired, reserving any and all eeriness to short lived Lynchian, effects laden nightmare sequences with a particular favouritism towards birds and water imagery (for reasons that are not satisfyingly apparent).

Since the disappearance María, for no readily ascertainable reason, develops a phobia for water making her work, as well as simple tasks such as swimming and bathing, very difficult. This would be understandable had her son drowned when he went missing on the ferry but reasons for his disappearance remain inconclusive. The inclusion of the frequent bird symbolism is perhaps even more frustrating; making aspersions towards some enigmatic or supernatural force, but ultimately proving to mean nothing of merit, except for possibly a shallow attempt at creating an eerie atmosphere.

María’s investigation into the possibility of her son still being alive takes her to all corners of the island, with the script forcing her to interact with the usual cavalcade of red herrings, including the disgruntled ex-employee and the isolated hermit. She even receives help and advice from the island’s well meaning but close-minded police officer. The result is sequence after sequence of drab enquiries for a mystery with little intrigue or emotional investment for the audience’s part. It makes for a flat and predicable experience, with the film’s overt symbolism and insistent musical score strongly implying a rather unimaginative twist which, when it does finally arrive, sets in motion the usual flashback sequence, where the previous clues are relived again in all their obvious glory.

First time feature film director Gabe Ibáñez has a clear flair for visual indulgence, as the cinematography is perhaps the film’s strongest asset; showcasing a beautiful and frequently threatening landscape. It comes as no surprise that Ibáñez is a former music video director, and while he has the potential to go on to become a filmmaker of note, he hasn’t been able to shake off the pop promo stigma of having style with no substance in this debut. All that’s mustered here is a nicely shot film with some welcome eye-candy in the form of Ibáñez’s leading lady. It may be worthy to note the surprising amount of nudity in a film that’s been certified 12A, although it’s never sexualised.

The cast do what they can with a decidedly under-developed script. There is a distinct lack of chemistry from most of the cast members, as well as a slight air of animosity. The relationship between María and her son – perhaps the most pivotal aspect to the narrative – lacks warmth and feels half-baked. They only share three or four scenes together before the disappearance, which doesn’t give much time for the audience to bond and then switch to empathy in time for the frantic searching of the boat and beyond.

Despite the pedigree of those involved, Hierro, while not a complete disaster, is a mostly lacklustre affair that bears no real resonance after the credits have rolled. While occasionally pleasant to look at, the film’s one note, transparent and ultimately predicable storyline, only serves to erect great big signposts pointing towards a rather easy-to-guess and unsatisfying conclusion. Those not accustomed to the genre will possibly find it more impressive; the rest will find it to be a hollow exercise in stylish tedium, which is disappointing to say the least. MP

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