Directed by José Luis Montesinos
Written by José Luis Montesinos & Yako Blesa
Service animals have transformed the independence of countless people across history, enabling autonomy of those living with life-altering circumstances. Elena, a young woman, paralyzed from the neck down, save for minimal movement in her right arm, struggles with accepting aid from a Belgian Shepard Athos, trained by her father in an attempt to make life in a re-furbished house easier. In part guilt-ridden, her father Miguel pushes for Elena to forgive herself and forge a life where she and Miguel can reform a broken family. After uncovering a dying bat in the cellar, Athos is bitten in the face – leading to a return to his more animalistic tendancies.
Superb credit is to be shared with Paula del Rio’s dedication to the role of Elena. Del Rio never bends the physicality, maintaining the boundaries of respect and conforming to the limitations of movement. There are no sudden heals or stretches, and the frustrations and panics Elena feels confined to her chair, able to sense but not directly confront her fears builds a sympathetic discomfort with the audience. Equally, José Luis Montesinos directs the film with glacial pacing, to reflect the discomforting limits in Elena’s movements.
As expected, the core obstacle was never the rabid Athos, rather the transpired guilt and self-loathing Elena places on herself over her sister’s death, and the consequences she carries. Gradually the film steps back from what it seemingly promised, of a Cujo style monster film, instead, revealing itself as a psychological experience where the presence of her psychosis manifests itself in peculiar ways. Almost spectral, Vera’s presence in the film goads and pushes her sister to survive, when Elena consigns herself to ending her life.
That’s not to say that Ropes isn’t banking on having a firm bite, but quickly we realise it places more emphasis in the bark. Gradually mankind’s best friend distorts into a being of primal wants, a creature dedicated to the hunt and thirst for crimson, rather than it’s unwavering devotion to a keeper. Here Montesinos’ film wobbles and begins to chase its tail a little, encircling itself around a foe which, as rabid as the effects make him seem, never feels that genuinely terrifying.
Much of these issues are down to the lacklustre camera work, which appreciates how to frame isolation, but when action is incorporated into the film it trips on itself. Likely in aid to conceal Athos’ trained nature not to cause genuine harm, much of Rope’s action sequences are filmed in tight angles or lit in a way where too much is masked in an already washed-out colour palette.
Where Ropes is at it’s most coherent is when it doesn’t leash itself to the threat of Athos, ironic given the basic premise of the film. Partaking a dual-role, del Rio’s performance as sisters Elena and Vera invokes an intensity as the two interact, but locating the real pang of the film’s emotion is in the desperate sorrow and torment del Rio brings to the micromovements in Elena’s face, or the contorted anguish in Vera’s boastful proclamations to garner a response. The films real bond is between the sisters, and equally, with the distraught connection, Elena shares with her father. Miguel Ángel Jenner carrying the weight of a man who loses a daughter, and in efforts to save the other faces his shortcomings.
Inherently there is no fault with the story, it understands the basics, and even nuances of dread and foreshadows, it never excels in these areas though. Luis Montesinos attempts to build on the groundwork they lay, but instead opt for jumpscares, dodgy computer effects and a rather adorable, if savage pet Ferret. There’s a more successful psychological horror weaving itself in the background, but always suffering at the hands of gnarling teeth, obvious scares and a reluctance to confront the instigators of suicide, regret and guilt in a refined manner.
Ropes (Cordes) is available for digital download from November 19th