Director: Angel Gómez Hernández
Writer: Santiago Díaz
Cast: Rodolfo Sancho , Ramón Barea, Ana Fernández
Streaming Platform: Netflix
At the heart of most horror films is the horror of history that tries to avenge itself by haunting the present. The structure of such films goes something like this- a series of horrific moments, followed by its diagnosis, followed by the reconciliation. The reconciliation between those violated in the past (the ghosts haunting the protagonists), and those violated in the present should have a cathartic quality to it- to make the violence endured seem worth it, in some sense. Otherwise what you, as a viewer, have braved yourself through is just a collage of jump-scares- your ass routinely bumped a few inches up in the air. Don’t Listen, the Spanish horror film streaming on Netflix, feels like that. They are very skillful jump-scares in here, but put together, they just don’t cohere.
The horror of history here is that of the Spanish Inquisition, and those haunted in the present are a family- Sara, Daniel, and their child Eric. Daniel’s job involves buying mansions, moving into it, renovating it, and “selling it for a kill”. The peripatetic life seems to have had a psychological effect on Eric- or at least that’s what the parents convince themselves of, to explain the voices he hears, and the eerie aloofness he inhabits. A series of ass-in-the-air, hands-on-the-eyes moments of horror settle this misconception- there is something rotten, and haunting about this mansion. Daniel takes the help of a man who studies these eerie sounds to get to that point of reconciliation.
The biggest flaw perhaps then, is that there is no reconciliation between the two worlds. You sense the ghosts of the Inquisition want revenge, or some sort of closure to the violence they experienced, branded as “witches” by the Catholic genocidal cult. But there’s nothing here, except for peripheral sympathy. There must be an effective way of milking the Inquisition for content while also paying homage to those who lost their lives in its senseless violence.
The jump-scares are aided by effective silences, and unnerving sounds of buzzing flies that feel like they are scratching at our ears. Indeed it is these flies that also get possessed by the ghost. There is rarely any logic to the killings that take place, and after a point the narrative just whips itself into a body-count. The final moment of confrontation between the ghosting and the ghosted isn’t nearly as fulfilling- there’s something empty about it. When the final death takes place, you don’t know if it is because of guilt or because of being possessed. When Sara weeps after experiencing loss, the background score is haunting, and not melancholic- so as a viewer you never get to invest in these characters, because even the film only looks at them as potential bait, with 50-50 live-or-die odds. The shelf life of such films is, then unsurprisingly, rarely longer than its runtime.