In Spanish horror movie, The Wasteland (aka El Páramo) it is the 19th Century and a young family are living a meagre life. Mother Lucía, father Salvador, and son Diego, spend their days and nights in and around their home – a small homestead situated in a sprawling wasteland away from civilisation.
A short way outside the home lies a series of wooden posts, which act as a boundary. The family do not go past this area, through a fear of what lies beyond.
One day, a boat floats downstream and onto the family’s land. The boat contains an injured man who appears to be close to death, although his injuries appear self-inflicted.
While Salvador says he will take care of the man, he is unable to stop him from stumbling in through the front door and picking up a shotgun. The man then promptly shoots himself in the head, leaving his blood splattered body on the floor in front of Lucía and Diego.
The next morning, Salvador leaves the confines of the home to take the man’s body away. He promises to return, while Lucía and Diego remain behind and continue their lives as usual.
But when Salvador does not return, Lucía and Diego are left to fend for themselves. And things soon take a turn for the worst, when they find themselves defending their home from an unseen presence which appears to be stalking them in the night.
Directed by David Casademunt, The Wasteland stars Inma Cuesta, Asier Flores, and Roberto Álamo. The movie is perhaps best described as a ghost story-cum-paranoid chiller, which leans heavy into atmosphere and suspense.
The Wasteland is a low budget affair, but one which makes the most of its limited settings and minimal cast. Like all good horror movies, the film manages to squeeze a great deal of tension out of shadows and lighting, to present a tale where the scares play out in the corner of the eye, or often simply from the imagination.
There are a few visual cues here and there, but a lot of the horror comes from The Wasteland’s ability to unsettle the audience through dialogue and implication. The movie is cold, harsh, and very unforgiving to its characters, and the narrative is filled with conversations which drop unsettling ideas and images into the mind.
This film is a well-versed in creating something from nothing and it has the power to conjure up frights through suggestion. If this sounds like your kind of movie, then you are in for a treat.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of The Wasteland is just how visually appealing it is. To say this is a beautiful looking film would be something of an understatement, as it is this and so much more.
The way this movie has been shot is truly mesmerising. From the wide, open landscapes, to the claustrophobic setting of the family home, the film looks picture perfect.
No frame is wasted, no shot feels less than spectacular, and the attention to detail is second to none. Cinematographer Isaac Vila delivers some captivating imagery, which adds a great deal to this movie.
Vila appears to have been inspired by many of the great Westerns of the past, and there are certainly echoes of the genre here. His images, combined with director David Casademunt’s ability to create exactly the right pacing and atmosphere, conjures up a haunting picture which is frightening and delightful in equal measure.
While I am talking about the positives, of which there are many, I should also mention the cast. While the central players are few and far between, they are all great in their roles – specifically Asier Flores who takes on the part of young Diego.
Flores has to carry numerous scenes by himself and he handles them all in his stride. A significant amount of the horror is explored through his eyes, and if he was unable to deliver his scenes, then large sections of this movie would feel rather flat.
But Flores is good, and so too is Inma Cuesta, who plays Lucía. Putting these two actors together was a strong decision, leading to an onscreen relationship that is heartfelt, at times heart-breaking, but always incredibly believable.
And talking of strong decisions, perhaps the best of them all is related to the sinister presence in this movie, which is largely consigned to the background for the majority of the story. Many horror movies shoot their load way too early, by putting the ‘big bad’ front-and-centre during the early sections of the film, but The Wasteland holds its nerve until much later in the picture, to ensure the focus always remains on the central characters.
Watching The Wasteland is like being told a devilishly wicked fairy tale, that has been created for the darkest, coldest, most chilling winter evenings. It is a film that is perfect for when the wind turns bitter and the only thing that has any hope of bringing some warmth is a story designed to get the blood rushing.
At all times, the emphasis is on creating horror from the atmosphere and the storytelling, rather than jump scares, but if you allow this movie to get under your skin then it is sure to cause a few goosebumps. And of course, you should allow this movie to get under your skin, while also allowing it to delight you with the captivating imagery.
Should you wish to take a look at The Wasteland, the movie is currently available to stream on Netflix. If you like spooky movies, then this one is recommended.