When analyzing some of the more popular phobias prevalent in society, I’m surprised more filmmakers don’t utilize agoraphobia when trying to envision thrilling or horrific scenarios. Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel appear to agree with me, because their film Shrew’s Nest (Musarañas) wonderfully exploits one woman’s social insanity after being condemned to an apartment prison by her own fears. Agoraphobia may sound silly to most, but for its victims, passing through a domicile’s entryway is like a portal directly into hell, bringing on panic attacks, insurmountable fear and irrational dread – a fantastic wrench thrown into any horror film’s story. No, Shrew’s Nest isn’t the next great animal attack scenario (that’s Backcountry), but instead, it’s a slow-burn mystery that explodes like a fireworks finale once the side effects of agoraphobia transform in a wild fit of genre psychosis.
Montse (Macarena Gómez) lives a modest life as a 1950s seamstress, working out of her apartment because of a crippling agoraphobic affliction. Her sister (Nadia de Santiago) also lives in the apartment, giving Montse her only connection with the outside world since both of their parents passed away – until an injured neighbor named Carlos (Hugo Silva) appears at her doorstep. Bringing Carlos inside, Montse tends to his wounds, but her intentions come into question when the injuries only get worse under her care. After years of being alone, Montse finally has someone trapped in her apartment with her, letting her wildest fantasies run rampant due to her twisted perception. Keeping Carlos a secret, is anyone safe from Montse’s obsession?
On the surface, Shrew’s Nest establishes itself as nothing but a psychological thriller about an insane agoraphobia sufferer who thinks she can capture true love, but so many sweet surprises await horror fans as the film progresses. Andrés and Roel not only show that they’re able to create hypnotic suspense, but there’s also an ample amount of blood that pays tremendous respect to obscure horror auteurs who mutilate bodies in somewhat hilarious ways. While the prolonged simmering does get caught on “Low” for an awfully long spell, focused on Montse’s obvious kidnapping, both filmmakers make up for a few plodding lulls with an invigorated ending filled with visual atrocities and some seriously sadistic twists.
Macarena Gómez is certainly one of the best kept secrets of the Spanish horror world, as this typical comedian stretches her acting muscles to achieve an unsettling balance between momentary sanity and complete mental deterioration. Just when we’re convinced Montse is on the road to recovery, all her actions slam together like motorists simultaneously flying through a four-way stop without a single red warning sign, but Gómez still manages to keep a stuffy, regal sense about it all. She’s a 1950s homemaker on the outside and a super-powered Lorena Bobbitt on the inside, as Gómez draws from her comedic performances when reacting to her own dastardly deeds. Being rather skinny and a bit frail, Montse’s violent outbursts are somewhat comical in their own right, but then Gómez reigns in any chuckles with a vicious darkness that redefines our understanding of what a “shrew” is.
The kicker of Shrew’s Nest has to be the familial undertones that deliver a knockout blow come the film’s final reveals. While Montse’s maddening state assumes most of the focal story points, our discovery of her parent’s true backstory shines a light on both Montse and her sister that’s infinitely more harrowing than any of the hidden bloody corpses. To say anymore would be a disservice, but when a movie features such a tone-changing, monumental secret, it HAS to be marked. Shrew’s Nest is a wonderful story that turns darker and darker upon each morsel of information, reaching a vile culmination that packs both a physical and emotional punch.
Those who invest themselves in Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel’s hybrid psychological slasher will be rewarded handsomely by a dynamite ending that explodes with vigor, defining exactly how a slow-burn effort should conclude. Watching Montse work is a special treat once tracks need to be covered up, sparking a tremendous ending to an otherwise watchable affair. Shrew’s Nest builds and builds, and takes its time doing so, but ultimately, it sticks the landing like Olympian McKayla Maroney. Hell, I think even she’d be impressed [Insert smiling McKayla Maroney meme here]!
Shrew's Nest is a slow, slow burn, but once the fireworks ignite, they explode in a spectacularly bloody spectacle that showcases Macarena Gómez's dementedly enjoyable performance.