The first thing that should be known going into The Vampire Spider
(La Araña Vampiro
) is that, despite the title and the fact that it just premiered at a genre film festival, it is not a wild B-movie about a giant, immortal blood-sucking arachnid. While I still think someone should consider making that
movie, this Argentinean film is instead, something much more haunting, ambiguous, and even frustrating at times, but which ultimately packs quite a wallop, both emotionally and viscerally.
The film concerns a teenager who goes to a cabin deep in the woods with his father. Very little is revealed about their relationship or the purpose of the trip, other than the fact that the boy suffers from some sort of extreme anxiety or phobia of pretty much everything. The first night there, he gets bitten by a huge tarantula-looking spider, which he immediately kills. He soon begins to complain about pain numbness in his arm and... and the wound keeps getting bigger and more grotesque.
After a visit to the hospital where he's told that the bite is nothing to worry about, his father examines the bite with tweezers and finds a live maggot inside. Somehow, this discovery tips him off that his son has been bitten by a "vampire spider" -- a new species which has just turned up in the region -- and that he is dying. The only way to save himself is to get bitten by the same type of spider again, at least, according to the stories which have spread in the area. In order to find the species, the teen leaves his father and embarks on a journey to the top of a mountain with a mysterious, alcoholic man who seems even more tortured and disturbed than the son.
On paper, the plot hook seems like a fairly conventional race-against-the-clock type set up, but the movie's execution of it is anything but. Every scene unfolds in long takes with almost no dialogue. The relationships, identities and motivations of characters remain vague, save for the bare essentials that I mentioned above. At times, it's unclear where the movie is going, or if it's going anywhere at all.
And yet, as much as I sometimes felt like just checking out of the long scenes of people walking in the woods or sitting on the porch, director Gabriel Medina is so meticulous and assured in his filmmaking, that he earns the audience's trust. He proves up front with the spider-bite scene that he knows how to deal in suspense when he wants to, and that he's not going to cop out with any of his material -- there are no CGI spiders in sight here, just huge, hairy, I-don't-know-how-they-convinced-the-actors-to-get-so-close arachnids.
At times, the film reminded me of Old Joy
, which I thought was a bore, or maybe a lo-fi version of Gerry
. However, while both of those movies petered out in my opinion, this one builds to a conclusion which is as horrifying and intense as it is sublime and moving. And I'm not sure that it would have worked so well if Medina hadn't taken his time and tested the audience's patience on the way there.
For me, the movie was a real treat, and provided a sort of therapeutic catharsis that was all the more powerful because I didn't see it coming. Clearly, it isn't a movie for impatient viewers or those who resent movies that allow time and space for meandering and reflection -- and believe me, I don't mean that in a condescending, pejorative way, because I got bored during the movie sometimes too. But if you're willing to just surrender to Medina's meditative style, The Vampire Spider
is a powerful, intense and even inspiring film that creeps up ever so slowly, then goes in for the spectacular kill.
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