Sometimes you watch a film that reawakens your love of cinema. Other times you’ll watch a movie you know nothing about, with zero hype, limited expectations and no knowledge of what to expect. The Hidden Face, A Spanish thriller starring Quim Gutierrez, Martina Garcia and Maria Soledad Rodriguez, is the type of film that punches you in the face repeatedly with cinematic joy. So do yourself a favour. Dodge the trailers and avoid the spoilers. Just sit back and enjoy one of the most riveting thrillers of the year, and I’ll do my best not to give too much away.
After the sudden disappearance of his girlfriend, a young composer (Gutierrez) is left in a new home with his life in pieces and the suspicions of the local police force at his door. He gets over the heartbreak a little too quickly for their liking, and it’s not long before his new girlfriend becomes a permanent fixture in the house. She also dated one of the investigating officers who still has a soft spot for her, so convincing them he’s innocent is going to take some time. It’s not long before new squeeze Fabiana (Garcia) starts to notice strange occurrences in the house, but before you can say What Lies Beneath, director Andres Baiz pulls the rug from under your feet.
That’s all you’re going to get from me about the plot, because the less you know about The Hidden Face the better. The opening act – with it’s leisurely pace and supernatural air – suggests that a chilling ghost story is on the cards, but writers Baiz and Infante aren’t interesting in going over old ground. A neat twist puts a fresh spin on the first act, casting new light on the lead characters while toying with your preconceptions of them. Loyalties change in an instant, and not for the last time either, with each of our protagonists getting the chance to play hero and villain, perpetrator and victim.
The contorted plot wouldn’t bare fruit if the lead performances didn’t match the quality of the script, but Baiz couldn’t be blessed with a better cast to pull off the coup. Gutierrez is an ideal choice for murder suspect Adrian, playing the role with subtlety, restrain and simmering intensity. Adrian is never truly likeable in the traditional sense of the word, but where there’s suspicion and doubt, there’s also sympathy for a character that just might be wrongly accused. Bewitching and ballsy, vulnerable and tragic, the two girls match each other like for like. The three leads are thoroughly captivating throughout, and it’s hard to imagine the film working half as well without them.
I’d be very surprised if The Hidden Face didn’t get a Hollywood makeover, which I why I recommend you watch the original version first, because it’s only a matter of time before Tom Cruise casts himself as the male lead. Baiz weaves a compelling tale, one that really finds its feet in the second act, where the pieces fall into place and the film takes a devilish turn, changing the shape of the movie entirely. It’s also worth noting – for connoisseurs of the female form – that there’s plenty of nudity on display. Thankfully it never feels exploitative, with the two girls shedding their clothes in the most natural of circumstances, adding to the overall realism of the piece. That’s what I kept telling myself anyway. It certainly didn’t hurt the movie that’s for sure.
With a thumping orchestral score, three great leads and a twisty narrative that toys with your affection, The Hidden Face is one of the most captivating thrillers of the year. The fact that it arrived with no fanfare only adds to the satisfaction, and the less you know about the movie the better. Some secrets should stay buried, but this delightful Spanish thriller isn’t one of them. AW