Shiver (2008) – By Cary Conley

Here’s another quietly spooky Spanish film in the vein of The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage. Shiver is about Santi, a photophobic teen who has a legitimate disease that may eventually kill him if he is exposed to too much sunlight. His condition, coupled with the fact that the kids treat Santi as a monster, lead he and his mother to a small village located in a valley that has less sunlight. Not only will Santi be safer here with his medical condition, but he and his mother can hopefully start their life over.

They move into an old, vacant house on the edge of town and next to the woods. Santi starts off great by making friends with a pretty girl his age and a younger boy that walks part of the way home with him before the trail splits and they go their separate ways. But something is out there, and follows the kids. It seems to have an affinity for Santi as it tends to hang around his new home. Whatever it is, it is intelligent as evidenced by the fact that it returns lost items to their rightful owners. For instance, the young boy Santi met on the first day of school kicks a rock into the woods only to have it thrown back onto the trail. Then something follows him through the brush as he runs screaming towards home. Then Santi loses a soccer ball in the woods outside school. As he walks home after school, the ball mysteriously hits him in the head. And Santi swears he hears something in the attic, though it’s been closed off since the last tenants left. In fact, they left so quickly, they left all their personal items, and the nice landlord–who also happens to run the local grocery–just put it all in the attic.

Also, something has been killing a local shepherd’s sheep and drinking their blood. It doesn’t help that one of the side effects of Santi’s condition is abnormally long incisors. Pretty soon, there are rumors that Santi is a vampire. As more and more people have experiences with the mysterious thing in the woods, Santi’s life becomes more miserable. Ahhh, small towns and their peculiar ways…

But soon the ante is upped as first the local shepherd dies and then a child is killed. Unfortunately, Santi happens to discover both bodies, so soon not only do the villagers become suspicious, but so does the local detective.

The first part of this film plays very much like a traditional Spanish ghost story, complete with mysterious forms in the woods, creaking doors, and weird sounds. But midway through, it switches streams as Santi actually sees the form and realizes it isn’t a ghost. But the case isn’t nearly solved as Santi searches for the answer to the mystery before he is blamed for all the weird goings-on. Without giving too much away and spoiling the plot for you, suffice to say that there are several more red herrings and possibilities, including feral children, the weird German family that used to live in the house, and more.

I really enjoyed this film. Full of atmosphere and eerie, fog-shrouded scenery, this is a nice, creepy ghost story. It’s not rated, but would most likely garner an R-rating from the MPAA for some brief shots of violence; however, I can’t emphasize enough that this isn’t a gore film, but a moody and very atmospheric mystery. Part ghost story, part monster-in-the-woods, and part murder mystery, the film is very entertaining. My one quibble is that the film doesn’t keep the viewer guessing and continually gives away the next plot device. However, I will say that even as the story changes from one monster to another, the director manages to keep the tension at a high level throughout the film. In the end, it didn’t matter that pieces of the plot were spoon-fed to the viewer because the story and directing were strong enough to keep the pace moving and tension was created throughout the film. If the French have recently laid claim to the new wave of gore films (Martyrs, High Tension, Frontier(s), Inside), the Spanish can certainly claim the gothic mystery as their own. If you have Netflix, you can stream this one instantly, and it is well worth the 90 minutes.