The New Daughter: How Spain chilled the entire film industry

With the release of The New Daughter, directed by the Spaniard Luis Berdejo, we look at how Spain has chilled the entire film industry.

Although the 1990s saw him portray several all-American heroes, the Oscar-winning actor Kevin Costner stars in an altogether new type of film with the release of the horror film The New Daughter.

The Field of Dreams actor plays a father under siege when a mysterious presence begins to torment him and his family in their new home. What's also interesting to note is that the film is directed by Luis Berdejo, a Spanish screenwriter who wrote the movie Rec, a huge hit both in Spain and the rest of the world. He is one of many filmmakers from his country suddenly finding fame in the horror genre, but where did this new trend come from, and why has it caught Hollywood's interest?

This new wave of Spanish chillers came from an unexpected place: the Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. The director has made clear the influence Spanish cinema and culture has had on him, and in 2001 his "breakthrough" was The Devil's Backbone, a ghost story set around the time of the Spanish Civil War, a period he would return to in his most celebrated effort, Pan's Labyrinth.

This led to several Spanish horror movies "crossing over" to find success in America, where a non-English-language film may struggle against the wave of Hollywood output. The first was The Orphanage, the del Toro-produced film by the director Juan Antonio Bayona, which enjoyed significant success both across Europe (where it received standing ovations at Cannes) and in the US.

That 2007 release was followed quickly by Rec, released the same year as Paranormal Activity and sharing its theme of "found footage" - horror presented as documentary - telling the story of a young television reporter trapped in an apartment while covering a fire station's call-out. The response was so positive it was quickly remade (almost shot-for-shot) and released less than a year later as the American film Quarantine. The most recent example was Julia's Eyes in 2010, by the Catalonian director Guillem Morales, which became a hit not only in Spain but achieved great success in the UK and Australia.

So what makes this particular country suddenly prolific in one particular genre? International audiences have perhaps found Spanish horror more compelling because of the focus on character development. Countries outside of the Hollywood system often focus on character development to make up for a smaller budget or lack of production value, and when brought to horror, this creates a sense of risk in the viewer, of caring about the person who is in peril rather than simply being "another victim" in the style of American "slasher" horror such as Friday the 13th.

There is also the subversion of horror conventions, such as the idea that the "human" characters, rather than the ghostly or supernatural ones, are the real threat. The themes of family, often present in Spanish cinema thanks to the presence of the legendary director Pedro Almodóvar, are also repeatedly exploited, with The Orphanage being the most obvious example of this.

The influence this wave of filmmaking has on cinema as a whole is already being felt. In 2007, Danny Boyle chose the filmmaker Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, the director of the 2001 Anglo-Spanish thriller Intacto, to direct 28 Weeks Later, the sequel to Boyle's 28 Days Later, which was extremely well received.

Spain has, in general, become the first place American studios look when making horror, with Rodrigo Cortes being overwhelmed with praise for the claustrophobic Buried, starring Ryan Reynolds.

Cortes is now in production on the thriller Red Lights, with Robert De Niro attached to star, while back in Spain, Almodóvar himself is exploring the dark side with his new film The Skin I Live In. With all of Tinseltown's finest clamouring to work with Iberian talent, Spanish influence seems to have crept in on all the scary movies hitting our screens.

Published: August 18, 2011 04:00 AM


Editor's Picks
Sign up to:

* Please select one