If, like me, you feel modern horror movies have often lost the plot, Shiver (2008), a wonderfully stylish chiller from Spain, may just be enough to restore your faltering faith. Director Isidro Ortiz, the man behind Fausto 5.0 (2001), and Alvaro Augustin, producer of Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Orphanage (2007), pit Julio Valverde from The Devil’s Backbone (2001) against horrors, both real and imaginary, in this subtle shocker.
Teenager Santi (Valverde) suffers from severe photophobia, where exposure to sunlight can result in potentially fatal skin disfigurement. Desperate, his mother Julia (Mar Sodupe) takes him to a village high in the Spanish mountains where there is only limited sunlight each day. However darkness brings other terrors to this remote area, which is plagued by a creature that preys each night on local livestock. When people also start being gruesomely murdered, suspicion inevitably falls on the lonely newcomer Santi.
That master of the macabre Peter Cushing once said the secret of real horror was less is more – advice the team behind Shiver appear to have taken on board. For much of the film the viewer never sees what is slaughtering the townspeople, both adult and child alike, with only a rustle in the undergrowth or shifting shadow letting the characters, and you, know something is there. Which of course makes the shock all the greater when, not until well into the film, the source is actually revealed. The other real horror is the isolation, both physical and psychological, which Santi feels, not only from his over protective mother, but also from the villagers, suspicious of this withdrawn loner who has appeared in their midst.
That’s not to say there aren’t visual horrors present. No holes are barred when the perpetrator of the grisly deaths which are plaguing the village is actually revealed, and the film’s opening sequence where Santi is pursued through a stark inner city landscape by the encroaching dawn as he succumbs explosively to his photophobia (an infliction whose possibilities incidentally, appear underdeveloped during the remainder of the film), evokes an effective edge-of-your-seat tension.
Playing on the emotional senses more than the visceral is a theme present in many of the previous films which those behind Shiver have been involved with (Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage in particular used subtlety to memorable effect) – a lesson which more horror film makers might take on board.