Promotion and hype is a hell of a thing; it can make even the worst of films seem amazingly appealing. Not that I ever thought Shiver (known as Eskalofrío in its native country) looked like a bad film; the trailer was intriguing, and Spain has been quite the hotbed of late for atmospheric chillers. But without the promotion, I would have thought of it as just another horror film that looked interesting. When you attach “From the Producer of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage” as a tagline on all of the films press materials however, you make people stand up and take a special type of notice. I sure did, considering those films were among my favorites of the past two years. Much to my chagrin, Shiver just doesn’t deliver. 20+ years of film geekdom and I still allow myself to be reeled in by the hype machine.
Santi (Junio Valverde) is a young man that could easily be mistaken for a vampire. Due to a rare skin disease called Photophobia, he has to attend night school and sleeps through most of the day. He also has unusually long canine teeth; it’s no wonder anyone with a penchant for superstitions would shy away from him. His mother (Mar Sodupe) is determined to help her son lead more of a normal life, so she packs up Santi and they move to a secluded village nestled in a mountain range where the sun is often blocked out by the high mountain peaks.
Not too surprising, as we’ve learned from many horror films, there’s some bizarre happenings going on in the small village. A local sheepherder has had multiple sheep slaughtered by an unknown creature, and while all of the villagers feel it’s nothing more than a wild animal, the man believes it’s something far more sinister; animals don’t generally completely gut their prey and leave the meat. Word quickly gets around, and the kids of the village are quite intrigued. When one of the kids named Tito claims that he saw some sort of abomination on his way home from school, Santi, along with another schoolmate named Jonás (armed with a shotgun), go off in search of the beast.
Once in the woods, bizarre noises and rustling bushes cause the kids to scatter. Alone and on the verge of being attacked, Jonás fires off a couple of rounds from the shotgun. Bewildered, Santi eventually stumbled onto Jonás, who is dead and covered in blood. While being checked out at the hospital, Santi is questioned by Inspector Cifuentes about the dead boy. Santi believes the boy accidentally shot himself, and is shocked when the inspector informs him that Jonás’ throat had been ripped open and drained of some amount of blood. Once the villagers get wind of the information, and previously knowing about Santi’s odd disease, they peg him as the prime suspect. But as we all know, there’s something far more sinister in those woods…
The biggest fault of Shiver lies in the fact that it relies on the mystery surrounding the menace in the woods. When you create a film where there’s a mystique around a certain aspect of the film that will be revealed later, the entire quality of the film hinges on whether that reveal is good or not. We’ve all seen those films or episodes of TV shows where you’re just waiting for that big reveal, wanting to know what is causing all the trouble, or why it’s happening, and then it all turns out to be a dream; otherwise known as the biggest cop-out in all of cinema. I’d also bring up the finale of The X-Files which I waited 9 years for, but it brings up too many painful memories.
What’s causing all the mayhem in Shiver isn’t as bad as the aforementioned examples, but it is wholly underwhelming. When you find out what’s out there in the woods, it’s pretty ho-hum. That in and of itself is a letdown, but the bigger sin the film plays is that the final twist, where you find out exactly why it’s happening, just doesn’t make sense. In actuality, it would make sense, had the film not given you a completely different explanation before. See, through investigation, the kids get answers to the why’s and how’s of the situation through the internet, which are then confirmed by a party who played an integral part in what they found out. Yet at the end of the film, where we see exactly what did happen, it has absolutely nothing to do with what we were told before. This would be all fine and good if say, the end reveal also told you that everyone in the village was in on things; that the internet information was planted, and the party that confirmed the internet information was covering things up. Sadly, that’s never said. You get the account of events at the end, and then the film is over, leaving the viewer with questions as to what the truth actually is. It’s just plain bad writing, as far as I’m concerned.
Sometimes with a bad narrative, a film can at least entertain you on a purely sensory level with a nice directorial style and visuals. Unfortunately Shiver doesn’t have that going for it either. The film goes for a drab and dreary color palette, which honestly works just fine with the tone of the film. Yet those same elements carry over to the nighttime scenes, and it’s a total pain to watch. I don’t know if the lighting crew was off getting high during the night shoots, but I defy anyone to see what the hell is going on in the majority of these sections. In a horror film, extremely dark and muddled scenes can certainly create a feel of unease in the viewer, but what’s going on in most of Shiver’s dark portions is actual action and exploration; you know, things that you would actually like to see since it’s important to the plot. It’s quite frustrating, and an overall bad choice by all involved behind the camera.
And that’s really another of Shiver’s downfalls; it’s just not scary. Don’t misunderstand; it’s not as if I’m scared by the majority of horror films, but I can at least see the proposed frightening elements. Yet a film with a possible modern-day vampire, a threatening beast in the woods, and eviscerated townspeople, comes off as much more of a thriller than the horror implications it’s attempting to produce. A thriller is just fine by me; it’s just too bad nothing in the film is exactly thrilling. In fact, the film feels more like a moody drama piece than anything else.
Is there anything good to say about the film? Well, it’s competently acted, with the young actors stealing the show. They’re all rather skilled and it’s a shame they didn’t have something better to work with. Also, director Isidro Ortiz has a good eye for filming outdoor environments, at least when it’s daytime. The film begins with a well-conceived air of mystery, but is quickly tossed out, delving into the “evil in the woods” archetype; and honestly, a good beginning doesn’t matter a whole lot in the grand scheme of things if everything that follows is a bust.
Ultimately, Shiver is a film that’s at extreme odds with itself. It starts out with the idea of vampirism, but quickly switches gears to the “wild thing in the woods” premise, and it masquerades as a thriller chock full of horror elements yet really ends up as a plodding drama. It has shoddy production during the night scenes and a convoluted, scatterbrained script that takes multiple missteps throughout the runtime. This is a prime example of why you should never let taglines or advertising dupe you into thinking a film may be special. It’s a lesson I think I’ve finally learned…hopefully.
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