2004, Movie, PG-13, 102 mins


Spanish director Jaume Balaguero made a strong first impression with LOS SIN NOMBRE (1999), a cold and very creepy adaptation of Ramsey Campbell's killer-cult novel The Nameless. Unfortunately, that Spanish-language chiller was never released in the U.S., leaving this poorly plotted and ultimately nonsensical 2002 example of sophomore slump — trimmed to ensure a PG-13 rating by distributor Miramax Dimension, which certainly didn't help matters — to become his de facto American debut. Forty years after six local children mysteriously vanished on the eve of a solar eclipse, a young American family moves into an isolated old house in the Spanish countryside. For Mark (Iain Glen), the head of the Rau household, their relocation is actually a homecoming: Mark was born in Spain, but moved to the U.S. with his mother after his parents divorced; his father, Dr. Albert Rau (Giancarlo Giannini), still practices medicine in the nearby city. It's been a long time since anyone has lived in the strangely constructed house; the plumbing's dodgy and the lights flicker on and off with increasing frequency. Mark's teenage daughter, Regina (Anna Paquin), however, senses that something far more serious is wrong with their new home. Since moving in, her younger brother, Paul (Stephan Enquist), has grown terrified of the dark and her father, who was diagnosed with a serious neurological disorder shortly before Paul was born, appears to be in the grips of a relapse. He's reverted to suffering seizures and has become dangerously paranoid. Regina's exhausted mother, Maria (a grating Lena Olin), dismisses her daughter's concerns in the same flippant manner she disregards those troubling bruises that appear on Paul's neck each morning: Kids hurt themselves in their sleep, and fathers wig out a little sometimes. Regina is convinced her brother is in grave danger, but aside from her new boyfriend, Carlos (BAD EDUCATION's Fele Martinez), she has no one to whom she can turn, and as an upcoming solar eclipse fast approaches, things only seem to be getting worse. Balaguero borrows shamelessly from THE SHINING and THE EXORCIST III while cannibalizing his own earlier work for ideas, and the shaking, quaking camera work by Xavi Gimenez (who later shot the magnificently gloomy MACHINIST for Brad Anderson) and the film's recurring scare tactic — a dark figure racing across the screen accompanied by a jarring jolt on the soundtrack — are used ad nauseam. All of this, of course, would be forgivable if it added up to a scary movie or made even a lick of sense (chunks appear to have been cut out of a longer cut of the film), but Balaguero manages to disappoint on every possible front. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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