A family moves into a new home in hopes of a new start, but the past won’t be left behind by the living or the dead. This is the story of 32 Malasana Street, a Spanish haunted house thriller steeped in dread and suspense.
Set in 1976, 32 Malasana Street centers on the Olmedo family, who have left their small village and its small minds behind to make their way in Madrid. They’ve put all the money they have into a new apartment, which is spacious and fully furnished! Macho father Manolo (Iván Marcos) is bemused by these artifacts from the life of an old woman who died alone in the place years before. Mother Candela (Bea Segura) is superstitious about some of the items, yet urges her petulant teen daughter Amparo (Begoña Vargas) to go through the closet for any dresses she might like. Her teen brother Pepe (Sergio Castellanos) is more interested in the apartment across the way, where a beautiful young woman plays peek-a-boo between sending him messages scribbled on scraps of paper. Meanwhile, young Rafael (Iván Renedo) is enchanted by the place, where marbles roll on their own and the TV turns on to talk right to him!
While their parents are focused on finding work and making a new life in Madrid, the children are tasked with caring for each other, the new home, and their grandfather, who is suffering from dementia and keeps rattling on about a woman who wants to steal Rafael away from them. If you’re getting Poltergeist vibes, you’re not alone. The script by Ramón Campos, Gema R. Neira, David Orea, and Salvador S. Molina takes a few cues from that iconic ghost story in some of its scares, but more crucially in its deep interest in the bonds within the haunted family. Smartly, the film begins with a cold-open spook to establish the apartment as a place of the paranormal before the Olmez family ever set foot in it. As they move in, clever dialogue delivers clues on why they left town, as do the sharp glances between parents and Amparo. There are secrets determinedly unspoken, the kind that can tear a family apart. That is if this gruesome ghost doesn’t beat them to it.
Directed by Albert Pintó, 32 Malasana Street is richly realized. The screenplay gives us characters complicated and compelling to care about by splitting focus between family members. We follow Candela to work, where she aims to impress and make friends, even as her home life becomes a waking nightmare. We are by Pepe’s side as he sheepishly flirts with the girl across the way, and by Amparo as she cradles a career brochure with a dreamy expression, then rolls her eyes at her mother’s clucking. We are witness to marital spats, tenderness, and minor frustrations. All of this making real the family who is about to experience the surreal.
Pintó sets them in an apartment gorgeous yet vaguely festering. The production design is full of details delicate and menacing, including a prominent portrait of the lady who came before. The lighting in the place leaves shadows, gorgeously painting a place of beauty and hidden danger. The creaks of doors and a rocking chair that moves on its own edge our flesh into goosebumps. Then, Pintó breaks from these gentle conventions of haunted house horror to throw at us a ghost of twisted flesh. She will come in flashes frightening! Pintó uses his unique poltergeist with a restraint that makes each appearance exhilarating and revolting, without letting us look to long that the seams might show or the suspension of disbelief might snap. Then, onto this the script grafts a backstory that makes this ’70s-set tale unexpectedly modern.
For the sake of spoilers, I won’t get into details. I will say it opens an interesting new avenue into what personal trauma might cause a haunting. The script aims to parallel the ghost’s story with that of Amparo, whose parents struggle to accept her for who she is. However, this bulk of this thread is introduced late in the third act, which undermines its potentially progressive theme. Instead, a jolting exposition dump barrels into an action-packed climax that shows little interest in what this relevant revelation means to the movie’s message. Essentially, after a superbly slow-burn approach to brewing spookiness, then spiking suspense with sharp scares of a terrifying spirit, 32 Malasana Street races to a finish that feels unworthy of its start.
Still, this is a seriously satisfying and scary movie. The ensemble cast brings a grit-teethed authenticity to the family drama and the otherworldly horror. Vargas in particular proves a stunning leading lady, exuding strength and fear as she battles for her family and her future. Thanks to cinematographer Daniel Sosa Segura, this film is a feast for the eyes, full of moving portraits of domestic despair and bone-chilling terror. Then comes a plotting parallel, thought-provoking and poignant. It’s just a shame about that bungled ending.
32 Malasana Street was originally reviewed out of the Nightstream Festival 2020, where it made its North American Premiere. It is now available on digital HD and DVD.
Header Image Source: Shudder