MOVIE REVIEW – In The Wasteland, set in 19th century Spain, an isolated family is visited by an evil creature who feeds on fear. Three of the mere four characters (the father, the mother and the little boy) try in their own way to confront the Evil One in an increasingly hopeless and nerve-wracking struggle. This unique, artistic, sympathetic psychological horror film tries to impress with its great performances and oppressive atmosphere but unfortunately struggles with tension, fear, and other technical solutions.
A war-torn country forces some of its population, fearing for their lives, to settle in the most barren, barren plain, where only a few trees have managed to survive, rooted in the hard soil, clinging in vain to the arid, grey, numb sky with their withered limbs stretched skywards, and the sky shows no mercy.
Not a happy life
Salvador (Roberto Alamo), the father, Lucia (Inma Cuesta), the mother, and Diego (Asier Flores), the son, live their daily lives in a miserable little hut. Diego wakes up in the middle of the night to nightmares about creepy figures his mother has carved for him and wakes up falling out of bed and smashing his bedside table.
But Diego’s trauma doesn’t end there: his father tries to force him to beat one of his beloved rabbits to death – but he can’t, and the bunny escapes execution and runs away. As his mother informs him, who knows how long he will survive, as he is likely to die in the wilderness.
This desolate wilderness is so unforgiving that the casual viewer might wonder how this family has survived here so long, but of course, that is nothing compared to the ordeal that awaits them. Soon they find a dying man, covered in wounds, in a boat, and this is where the horrors begin, linked to a strange, gruesome spectre…
The Wasteland is an arty, minimalist horror film that could have been made in the seventies and eighties. There are four characters in the whole movie, and only two (the mother and her son) are given significant roles; it took some powerful acting to keep the viewer’s attention. Fortunately, Inma Cueste, who bears a striking resemblance to Penelope Cruz, and the young boy Asier Flores and Robert Alamo, who plays the elderly father, really shine. This is particularly true of the mother, who is trying to protect her child but is increasingly going crazy and is played with incredible authenticity by Cueste. On the other side, Flores’s child actor is compelling as the often shy, emotional yet increasingly capable Diego, trying to protect his mother and rabbits. And Robert Alamo, as the father of a family, is a little grim, almost frightening, but he cannot escape his own demons. So we have no complaints about the cast, even if there are not many of them.
As a horror, however, it’s not enough
Unfortunately, however, as a psychological horror film, The Wasteland is not very good for several reasons. It would have been essential for a movie that could be considered a chamber drama to have a constant dose of tension and fear, but director David Casademunt is obviously less skilled in this area. The monster’s ‘attacks’ (or the creature itself) are often not even visible, with Lucia shooting in different directions to try and keep it at bay. It’s hard to know whether this is just because of technical possibilities, a presumably tight budget, or something else. In addition, there are many such scenes, which makes the film a bit repetitive. So there is no tension or fear; the keyword is “oppression”.
I can only recommend The Wasteland to those who like classic European art films and artist horror films. The acting is first class, but the same cannot be said of the direction, tension and horror atmosphere. Despite the scares, this is a genuinely depressing psychological drama, and I wouldn’t call it a horror.