If your definition of a good horror film is something which sickens and nauseates, then For Elisa, (Para Elisa in the original Spanish) the psychological shocker by director / writer Juanra Fernández, starring Ana Turpin, Ona Casamiquela and Luisa Gavasa, is for you. If you possess even a modicum of taste, then it’s not.
In order to attend an end of term holiday with her friends, Ana (Casamiquela) answers an advert on the university notice board for a carer for a mentally handicapped girl called Elisa (Turpin). On arrival at Elisa’s home, Ana is greeted by the girl’s mother Diamantina (Gavasa) who, though welcoming, nonetheless makes Ana feel uneasy. Diamantina keeps her apartment in a state of down-at-heel bohemianism where, after her beloved daughter, pride of place is given to her exquisite collection of valuable antique dolls. Worse is to come however for the unfortunate Ana. Diamantina intends to trap her in the apartment, dressing and making her a living plaything for the entertainment of her deranged daughter – plan which can only end in tragedy for all involved.
Falling somewhere between Misery (1990) and Boxing Helena (1993), For Elisa utilises the most cringeworthy elements of both of those films yet with none of the subtlety of either – which gives you some idea of how bad it is. Where even the most full on horror films generally attempt some element of reprieve from their violence (even if only to emphasise the worst when it actually happens), this one has no such delusions. Instead, from the moment Ana enters the lair of the demented Diamantina and nutty Elisa all hope – for both her and the audience – is lost.
Films, even those of the horror genre, owe it to their audiences to have some degree of purpose – if only to give them a reason for watching it. For Elisa has none. After a few brief establishing scenes – simply there one feels because Fernández clearly thought he had to have an excuse to introduce the unrelenting violence which follows – the film’s main body makes no pretence or effort to excuse the sadistic streak which runs at its core. Often, as a critic, you feel an unspoken obligation to find at least one point in every film’s favour. Here the only positive thing to highlight are the (admittedly) richly atmospheric scenes set in Diamantina’s sitting room where she endlessly plays Beethoven’s Für Elise (from which the film derives its title) for Elisa’s amusement. This is really the sole redeeming grace of an otherwise disturbing and largely unnecessary exercise in unrelenting brutality which should be avoided if at all possible.