Hierro (2010)

Directed By: Gabe Ibanez
Written By: Javier Gullon
Starring: Elena Anaya
  Nea Segura
  Mar Sodupe
  Andres Herrera

Hierro is a film of two halves. The first half is smart, creepy, tense, disturbing and utterly compelling. The second half is meandering, confused, clichéd and horribly disappointing. Although worth seeing for Gabe Ibanez’s quality direction and Elena Anaya’s excellent performance, Hierro is an incredibly frustrating watch.

Marine biologist Maria is taking her son to the isolated island of El Hierro. Whilst on the ferry, her son Diego goes missing. The local police search the ferry, check passenger lists and do everything possible to locate him. But Diego is gone.

Six months go by and Maria is struggling to cope with her loss, terrified of the water that previously encapsulated her life. Then the phone call comes. The El Hierro police have found a body in the water – it might be her son. So Maria returns to the island to identify the corpse, only to discover it is not her son at all. The police are unconvinced by her claim and Maria is forced to stay on the island, awaiting DNA test results to confirm truth.

Stuck for three days on El Hierro, Maria launches her own investigation into Diego’s disappearance, and achieves some disturbing results. Paranoid, afraid and convinced her son is still alive, Maria teeters on the brink of insanity as her entire world spirals wildly out of control.

Hierro is divided into two distinct parts. Part one is the build up, the vanishing of Diego and Maria’s return to El Hierro. Part two is her investigation into the mystery of her son’s disappearance. Both parts are vastly different in quality.

Part one is subtle, haunting, scary and tense. The opening car crash sequence is vicious and truly captivating. It is compelling work, and director Gabe Ibanez fully and immediately draws you into his world. Maria’s resulting fear of water is so convincingly and creepily done it becomes our own, and you genuinely dread her approach to any water source as any number of disturbing hallucinations might befall us. It is a ghost story without any actual ghosts and there are moments reminiscent to the style of Guillermo Del Toro and Juan Antonio Bayona’s work throughout, making director Ibanez a name to watch in the future.

The second part of Hierro, however, is pedestrian and messy. Maria searches the isolated island of El Hierro, meeting the numerous unnerving inhabitants. “On this island everyone is a friend,” the police chief tells her. Maria’s actions become more extreme and foolish the more desperate she becomes, but it is not greatly compelling and more than a little clichéd.

Ibanez still retains spot-on with his direction – no scene is ever wasted in Hierro – but the story is squandered, petering off into some melodramatic paranoid silliness that we’ve visited numerous times before in many lesser films. It becomes undemanding and completely devoid of scares or tension. It does still evoke a threatening feel to it, but it’s less haunting than before. Some may also find the metaphors and imagery too insistent, but the constant references and visuals of birds add a necessary supernatural feel to the piece.

Elena Anaya does excellently as the tortured Maria, her commitment is absolute, with full body nudity and brutal violence demanding a lot for an actress who is on screen for 95% of the movie. Sadly the script does her few favours in the latter half of the film, but she is convincing throughout.

Hierro is excellent and flawed in equal measures. The direction is immaculate, the acting solid and believable, the tone hauntingly tense, yet poor plotting and scripting kill Hierro mid-flow. Ibenez is one director to watch in the future – given the right material he could one day created a masterpiece. Hierro is only half of one.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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