The Bar movie review: This Spanish horror-comedy doesn't hold back on tension and quirkiness
(Editor's note: We are doing a series of movie reviews based on films newly available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and other online streaming websites. You can read Mihir's previous reviews here, here, and here.)
If you’re tired of mainstream cinema and its bank of predictable clichés, here’s a film that feels like a splash of cold water on your face. This Spanish film called The Bar is a fun, exciting romp into the weird and unpredictable, mashing together the genre subversions and visual quirk of Edgar Wright and the sensibilities of oddball sci fi B movies.
The setup is immediately arresting – this is Assault on Precinct 13 meets Shaun of the Dead. A long tracking shot introduces us to a whole bunch of people at a Madrid square, the centerpiece of which is a pretty young woman named Elena (Blance Suarez) who walks into a bar. Unbeknownst to her, some of the people she bumped into at the square also make their way into the bar and go about their business. A fight is about to break out, and before anyone can react, a loud gunshot is heard outside the door, and a man falls to the ground dead, a bullet gone straight through his skull. Cue in alarm and screams, and an unforeseen situation where everyone in the bar has no choice but to stay inside or risk being shot dead.
The film is directed by Spanish comic book artist and filmmaker Alex De La Iglesia who brings his flair for comics into the narrative, each scene executed like strips from a book. Iglesia does not hold back on ramping up the tension and weirdness. As the panic surrounding the characters increases, so does their behavior and reaction to every new development. There’s also a clever self aware nature to the film, especially when some of the characters try to figure out what the heck is going on and why are people being shot. Every new theory is more outlandish than the next and is mined for comic relief – a nice sendoff to genre films of this kind.
What really works is the pacing, which, both in dialogues and action, is absolutely frenetic. The banter between the characters is pulsating with energy and gonzo cinema sensibility, but with just enough seriousness to make it all believable. This was made possible by the terrific cast of oddballs – the stereotypical damsel in distress who eventually learns to take control of the situation, an archetypical hero type who may not be as brave and moral as he looks, an innocent old woman sagging with sadness, a crackpot beggar with a hatred for upper class entitlement, and so forth. A film of this sort depends very heavily on character dynamics and director Iglesia nails it on that front.
The other department that excels is the makeup and prosthetics – both of which are wonderfully horrible especially during the gory situations. Its luridness adds wonderfully to the atmosphere of apocalyptic dread buoyed by the Hitchcockian mystery of whatever horrors are occurring outside the bar. The tongue in cheek B-movie approach makes for an easy pass for the film to grab screenings at genre festivals. We should consider ourselves lucky that Netflix has chosen to stream these kinds of films and not just mainstream fare.
The only disappointment is perhaps the finale, which suddenly shifts in tone from cheeky black comedy to a standard issue slasher fare, and the ‘reveal’ of mystery surrounding the situation is put aside in favor of more straightforward action thrills. There’s also some unnecessary amount of voyeurism towards the third act, particularly with regards to Suarez who, for plot reasons, conveniently has to run around in underwear for the entire third act and the camera seldom leaves her body. It makes the film just shy of reaching the greatness levels of The Similars, another film about a bunch of people trapped in a room and hounded by an inexplicable mystery.
The Bar is currently streaming on Netflix India.