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The Nameless   C+

Dimension Films / Filmax International

Year Released: 1999 (USA: 2005)
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Jaume Balagueró
Writer: Jaume Balagueró (based on the novel by Ramsey Campbell)
Cast: Emma Vilarasau, Karra Elejalde, Tristán Ulloa, Pep Tosar, Jordi Dauder, Toni Sevilla, Carlos Lasarte.

Review by Jim Harper

The Nameless is Jaume Balagueró's first full-length film and the first adaptation of a novel by prolific British horror writer Ramsey Campbell. It's also become something of a flagship for the new Spanish horror movement, with several critics raving about the film and the director. Others were less impressed, claiming the plot was too vague and exotic and the climax somewhat underwhelming. In the spirit of fairness, there's some truth to that latter assertion, although there's still much to admire.

The film opens with the discovery of a child's body, hideously mutilated and left to rot. The body is identified as that of Angela Gifford, a young girl who has been missing for some time. After the parents are informed we move forward five years, to see Angela's mother Claudia (Emma Vilarasu) still affected by her daughter's death, despite the outward semblance of "moving on." One day she receives a phone call from someone claiming to be Angela. She's not dead, it seems, but she is in desperate trouble. Not sure what to believe, Claudia contacts Bruno Massera (Karra Elejalde), the cop who worked the case five years before. Conveniently enough, Bruno's just been fired, and he agrees to look into Angela's death, partly as a way of distracting himself from his own grief at the death of his wife.

It doesn't take Bruno long to figure out that the body they believed to be Angela's could have belonged to another child who disappeared at the same time. Where then is Claudia's daughter? Who has been holding her for five years, and why is she now trying to contact her mother? Claudia and Bruno follow the telltale clues left behind, trying to unravel the mystery of Angela's disappearance before it's too late. Needless to say it all involves some diabolical plans and a fair amount of cult activity, not to mention the requisite gruesome murders.

All of which makes for fairly compulsive viewing. There isn't much mystery to the proceedings, because although the specifics of the situation are somewhat twisted, in general terms there's little the experienced viewer won't have come across before. Balagueró has the sense to keep things moving at a moderate pace, making sure his leads don't hang around trying to interpret clues the audience has already digested, lingering on the details just long enough to arouse some curiosity about the film's eventual dénouement. That's a worthy aim, but it's also where the cracks begin to show.

For a start, the pseudo-theological ramblings and satanic posturing strongly suggest something big about to happen; perhaps not End of Days big, but certainly quite high on the evil scale. What we end up with, however, is a much more personal apocalypse that shoots by at such a pace that less attentive viewers might well miss it entirely. Upon consideration it's quite an appropriate ending, but whether it belongs in a horror film is something you'll have to figure out for yourselves. Furthermore, important aspects of the plot don't make a great deal of sense; the cult's activities, for example, remain somewhat vague, leading to a certain amount of bewilderment on the viewer's part.

Looking beyond the narrative flaws, The Nameless is clearly the work of a capable director. Balagueró and his cinematographer create a wonderfully grimy atmosphere of urban decay, with overcast skies and a murky green tinge to everything. There are plenty of religious symbols on display, from nuns on the subway to carefully placed crucifixes, echoing both Spanish/Roman Catholic culture and the story's integral perversion of goodness and innocence. It adds a somber note to the film's already bleak ambience. Occasional digital techniques and weird noises are used to startle the viewer, but thankfully these are few and far between. If I have one technical complaint, it's that one central character is dubbed. European films have been post-dubbed (even in their native language) for decades now, but the sound and dialogue here are done perfectly, so the one instance of obvious dubbing leaps out, detracting from the scene at hand.

The unfortunate plot and script problems stop The Nameless from being a great film, although those forewarned are likely to get a lot more out of the experience than the entirely unprepared viewer. Balagueró is on the verge of breaking through internationally, despite the problems surrounding the U.S. release of his next film, Darkness. Hopefully he will be able to maintain the same atmosphere of foreboding and dread that surrounds The Nameless, while matching it with a solid storyline.

Review published 03.28.2005.

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