Nightstream Festival – Film Review – 32 Malasana Street (2020)

A family is terrorised by a vengeful spirit in this classy Spanish spookfest.

 It’s 1976 and Spain is transitioning towards democracy. The Olmedo family are transitioning too by spurning their small parochial village for a brighter future in the city of Madrid. Sinking every penny they own into a large apartment with a suspiciously small rent, they become targets of a spiteful entity that threatens to destroy their dreams and rob them of their sanity.

Based on true events, Albert Pintó’s pacy paranormal potboiler brings arthouse styling to the rollercoaster jump scare blueprint. Mid 70’s Madrid is recreated with the kind of evocative and surprisingly expansive vibrancy usually reserved for high-end period dramas. The mise-en-scène is exceptional in its detail, providing an intricate underlayer on which to project the supernatural shitstorm that engulfs our likeable protagonists. 

Pintó allows his characters’ arcs to develop with depth and intimacy and the superb acting, especially from the younger cast members, elevates his film further above similar upmarket genre cineplex (remember those?) fodder. 32 Malasana Street has ambitions above just scaring the pants off you as it explores the dynamics of a family under extreme stress and more generally the politics of poverty traps, the stigma of gender choice and prejudicial class snobbery.

Many will accuse the movie of criminal genericism, however, the familiar tropes are given fresh impetus by the constantly inventive camerawork and emergent backstory. There is a point where it feels like we have slipped down a Poltergeist homage rabbit hole, with the television-based abduction of the youngest child. But to its credit, this proves nothing more than a narrative twist that is quickly resolved so the real horrors can commence.

The often abused theme of damaged minds being highly tuned conduits for the spirit world is handled with refreshing respect and humility and provides the flick with a slick gateway to its bombastic finale. That being said, the shameless looting of The Exorcist locker is harder to defend but forgivable given the films wider aspirations and full send attitude.

Once the film hits its stride it is commendably relentless in its mission statement to put the frighteners on you. A rolling wave of tense set-pieces lines up to fray your nerves and if one doesn’t give you goosebumps the next one will. There is also a satisfying amount of disturbing imagery and visual trickery to add to the chills as 32 Malasana Street strives to cement its own identity.

Highlights include a genuinely creepy instance of pully washing line communication and a deeply unnerving segment when Grandpa appears to be auditioning for a new Haribo commercial.

It is very hard not to be swept up in the technical aptitude that envelops  32 Malasana Street. Pintó is a quality director who understands the purity of his art and in turn the elements of terror that can be distilled into an effective horror picture.

What could have been no more than a reverse-engineering of The Conjuring universe, blossoms under his artistic control into a powerhouse fright flick that entertains at every dark turn.

★★★★

Supernatural, Horror, Drama | Spain 2020 | 105 mins | Warner Bros. Pictures, Studiocanal| Released Oct.22nd 2020 on SHUDDER| Dir.  Albert Pintó | With: Begoña Vargas, Iván Marcos, Bea Segura