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THE NAMELESS

One of the most effective horror movies of recent years, the 1999 Spanish production THE NAMELESS (a.k.a. LOS SIN NOMBRE) was adapted from a Ramsey Campbell novel by the debuting Spanish filmmaker Jaume Balaguero.  It's a superbly atmospheric film with excellent performances and visuals worthy of Dario Argento.

The Package
    
Two things.
     First: Ramsey Campbell, author of the 1981 novel this film is based on.  A British scribe, Campbell is responsible for many fine horror novels (THE FACE THAT MUST DIE, INCARNATE, THE HUNGRY MOON), yet this film, somewhat unbelievably, was the first of them to reach the screen.  In any event, it certainly won't be the last: another Spanish production, EL SEGUNDO NOMBRE, based on Campbell's novel THE PACT OF THE FATHERS, was completed in 2002, proving that the Spaniards know their horror.
     Second: Jaume Balaguero, the screenwriter and director of this film.  This was his debut, and it's a damned impressive one.  I'd even go so far as to call it one of the most impressive first features of the decade--it may have some deficiencies on the screenplay level, but from a directorial standpoint it's nearly flawless.  It follows the shorts ALICIA (1994) and DIAS SIN LUZ (1995), and precedes DARKNESS (2002), Balaguero's less successful second feature.

The Story
     Balaguero has taken quite a few liberties with Campbell's novel, so it can't really be blamed for the script's shortcomings.  The film starts with the middle aged Claudia, extremely well played by Emma Vilarasau (and a refreshing change of pace from the teenybopper airheads who populate so many modern horror movies), learning that her young daughter has been murdered by an anonymous cult.  The body has been burnt to a crisp and its teeth removed, rendering a comprehensive identification impossible, but enough clues exist...or so it seems.
     Two years later Claudia receives a mysterious phone call: it's her daughter's voice, telling her that she's alive and to please come find her.  Teaming up with a dedicated cop and newspaper reporter while fighting off the advances of her loony ex-husband, Claudia investigates the cult who kidnapped her daughter, a nameless bunch of freaks whose lineage stretches back centuries and whose membership includes Adolph Hitler.  A number of clues, including further phone messages from the "dead" girl and a SILENCE OF THE LAMBS-like confrontation with an incarcerated madman, lead Claudia and co. to an abandoned apartment building, which just happens to be the location where the girl was conceived.
     It's about here that the story begins to go seriously awry.  It seems that the cult fabricated all the clues in an attempt to lead Claudia to them and her brainwashed daughter.  That doesn't make a whole lot of sense (why didn't they just nab Claudia in the beginning and save themselves all the trouble?), and neither do the daughter's unexplained changes of heart, from evil to good and back again.  Still, just when it seems everything's about to fall apart, Balaguero pulls off a stunningly powerful, genuinely shocking final scene-I won't reveal what happens, but I will say that when it occurs, you will NOT expect it.

The Direction
     His screenplay might not be perfect, but that doesn't lessen Jaume Balaguero's total grasp of any and all things cinematic.  From a purely visual standpoint the film is a masterpiece, a perfectly calibrated symphony of light and shadow.  Working with cinematographers Albert Carreras and Xavi Gimenez (who also photographed Nacho Cerda's 1998 short GENESIS and Balaguero's latest film DARKNESS), Balaguero has created one of the best looking films, horror or otherwise, I've seen in some time.
     The atmosphere is also wonderfully realized, with a deceptively quiet, stately surface periodically interrupted by jarring moments of near-hallucinatory shock.  Adrian Lyne's JACOB'S LADDER appears to have been an influence, and if I didn't know better I'd also say that of Hideo Nakata's RINGU, which like this film was made with skill and care, two extremely rare and precious commodities in today's movie marketplace.


Vital Statistics

THE NAMELESS (a.k.a. LOS SIN NOMBRE)
Fantastic Factory (Filmax)

Director: Jaume Balaguero
Producers: Jaume Balaguero, Joan Ginard
Screenplay: Jaume Balaguero
(Based on a novel by Ramsey Campbell)

Cinematography: Albert Carreras, Xavi Gimenez
Editor: Luis De La Madrid
Cast: Emma Vilarasau, Karra Elejalde, Tristan Ulloa, Toni Sevilla, Brendan Price, Jordi Dauder, Nuria Cano, Isabel Ampudia, Carles Punyet, Aleix Puiggali, Susan Garcia Diez, Pep Tosar
 


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