Spain’s Augustin Villaronga,
writer/director of the nihilistic classic
IN A GLASS CAGE, has a way with
disturbing imagery, and puts that flair to good use in a fairly traditional,
though still mighty distinctive, tale of supernatural horror.
1997’s 99.9 (not to be confused with Thai flick 999-9999) is a stellar
entry in the recent Spanish horror movie renaissance (whose ranks include films
like THESIS, THE NAMELESS and FAUSTO 5.0), even though its director Augustin
Villaronga has been around since 1983, the year of his unforgettable debut IN A
GLASS CAGE. He’s also made the mystical fantasy MOONCHILD and the violent war
drama EL MAR. 99.9 seems downright subdued in such company, but don’t be
fooled: it’s a CREEPY film with a number of nasty moments.
Regarding the film’s U.S. distribution, it was all-but nonexistent (there
were plans for a U.S. release in 1998, which evidently fell through) until Urban
Vision’s ‘04 NTSC DVD release, a poorly mastered affair with non-removable
English subtitles. While the DVD is certainly preferable to the bootleg videos
that were for a time the only way to see this movie, I think it deserves
Lara is the host of 99.9, an occult-oriented radio talk show. She learns
one day that Victor, her estranged lover, has been found dead in a small
backwoods village under mysterious circumstances. Shortly thereafter Lara
receives a video tape from an anonymous source that fills her in on her lover’s
activities in the days before he died, during which he conducted freaky
experiments in an attempt to contact the dead.
Lara travels to the village where Victor met his death, and finds a largely
apathetic populace. She soldiers on, however, making a point of staying in the
same hotel Victor did. The place, it turns out, is run by a creepy dude who in
his spare time makes weird sculptures out of the hair of his guests and who
apparently had an affair with Ramon during his last days. Lara also meets a
woman interned in an insane asylum who owns the house where Victor breathed his
last--the place, the woman claims, is haunted by the spirits of people who’ve
died inside, and whose faces have been subsequently imprinted in the walls.
Apparently the woman’s daughter runs the house together with her sadistic
husband, who throws Lara off the premises when she tries to investigate.
One night, however, the woman who owns the house in question busts out of
the asylum and leaves a note for Lara imploring her to meet her at the “house
with the faces”. This Lara does, to confront the woman, her daughter, and the
explanation of her lover’s killing...and it’s not pretty!
This film is atmospheric to a fault, with an aura of brooding mystery equal
to the best work of Pupi Avati (in particular
THE HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHING
WINDOWS and ZEDER). That’s not to say that it’s in any way a “quiet” horror
movie; on the contrary, 99.9 contains some profoundly disquieting scenes of
violence, including a nasty shovel whacking and documentary footage of animals
being slaughtered that adequately demonstrate the filmmaker’s unrivalled flair
for cinematic psychosis. It helps, of course, that Villaronga is an unusually
skilled craftsman who creates extremely vivid and affecting images that tend to
stick in the viewer’s mind (whether he/she likes it or not!).
If Villaronga were as secure in crafting a narrative, then this film would
be an all-time classic...but alas, he’s not. Or at least, not here;
Villaronga’s self-penned films IN A GLASS CAGE and EL MAR boasted tightly
constructed storylines, but he developed 99.9 from a pre-existing script that
admittedly didn’t engage him fully. The mystery at the film’s center leaves
much to be desired: the nature of the explanation (if not the precise
methodology) is revealed early on, meaning the many red herrings the heroine
subsequently confronts (i.e. the question of whether the hotel proprietor
shot her lover or not) are ultimately pointless distractions in a film that
could easily stand to lose 10 to 15 of its 106 minutes.
Screenplay: Augustin Villaronga, Jesus Regueira, Lourdes Iglesias
Cinematography: Javier Aguirresarobe
Editing: Pablo Blanco
Cast: Maria Barranco, Terele Pavez, Angel de Andres Lopez, Ruth Gabriel, Gustavo
Salmeron, Juan Marquez, Simon Andreu, Pedro Mari Sánchez, Miguel Picazo, Maite
Brik, Jordi Canals, Paula Soldevila, Francisco Maestre, Alicia Agut, Luisa