By Scott Dorward
The Bar (Spain, 2017)
“Fear changes people.”
“No, fear shows us what we really are.”
The Bar is one of those films I’ve been flicking past on Netflix for a few years. The premise sounded a little too familiar to grab me. I’d also picked up the misapprehension that it was about a zombie apocalypse, which killed all enthusiasm.
Then, I stumbled upon an article that mentioned that it was written and directed by Álex de la Iglesia, who was responsible for such oddities as Acción Mutante (1993), Day of the Beast (1995), The Last Circus (2010) and Witching and Bitching (2013). This was enough to encourage me to give it a go. I’m glad that I did.
The Bar takes place, unsurprisingly, in a bar. This is a sort of café-style bar in Madrid, however, the likes of which we don’t see in the UK. As the film starts off, it is the morning rush, with customers gathered for coffee and breakfast.
A young woman named Elena arrives, seeking peace in the midst of a romantic crisis. Nacho, a socially awkward hipster who works in new media, takes an interest in her that becomes downright proprietary over time. We also meet oddball characters like Andrés, a control-freak ex-cop who still carries a gun everywhere; Amparo, a lonely old woman who spends her day playing the slot machine in the bar; and Israel, a homeless religious fanatic driven by righteous fury and alcohol.
The bar is thrown into chaos almost immediately when a departing customer is shot dead by an unseen sniper. It quickly becomes apparent that anyone leaving the bar will share the same fate. The staff and customers soon trace this to a military officer who has died in the bar’s lavatory, apparently infected by some bioweapon. The authorities have imposed a quarantine on the bar and are hiding this from the world.
Internal and external pressures lead inevitably to violence, with those trapped inside the bar turning on each other and hatching desperate plans to escape. The discovery of a number of vials of a cure only makes things worse when it becomes apparent there are not enough to go around.
More than once in previous years, I’ve picked a film that ended up being a loose fit for the challenge. It seems to have happened again. Netflix listed The Bar as horror, although I’m not sure I agree. While it deals with some nasty subject matter, it never really feels like the intent is to horrify. Personally, I’d categorise The Bar as a black comedy/thriller.
That said, I did find myself flinching during some scenes. The characters seize upon a drain in the cellar as a possible means of escape into the sewers below. While their attempts to slather Israel and later Elena with olive oil and force them through the narrow gap are initially comical, the jagged edges of the opening soon turn things bloody. The thought of these people wading through sewage with open wounds made me writhe in my seat.
Also, the infection angle seems timely. Both the protagonists and the authorities take desperate action, doing everything they can to avoid exposure and the spread of the virus. After the events of this year, the idea that people might take a deadly disease so seriously feels rather quaint. It usually takes longer than three years for a film to become so dated.
The Bar is a brisk, entertaining film that wastes no time setting stakes and ramps up mercilessly. Its eccentric characters and sometimes ludicrous situations straddle the line between comedy and discomfort nicely. If there is a weakness, it’s that the ending lacks a final twist of the knife that would have saved it from feeling obvious. This is a small complaint, however.
The premise of the film is a simple and well-used one. What saves The Bar from feeling tired is the characters. They are all broken in their own ways, riddled with character flaws that make conflict inevitable. At the same time, they are engagingly human, each with some aspect that makes us root for them. Even amidst wholesale carnage, their individual deaths are poignant.
While The Bar is perfectly fine in its own rights, it feels a little tame in comparison to the other de la Iglesia films I’ve seen. It never quite goes into his trademark full-tilt madness, which may just be down to the constraints of its setting and premise. This is only a concern if you are comparing it to the rest of his work, however.
A Final Note
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- 1 – Baskin (2015)
- 2 – The Bar (2017)
- 3 – The Editor (2014)
- 4 – The Beach House (2019)
- 5 – The Mummy (1959)
- 6 – The Wind (2020)
- 7 – Tigers are Not Afraid (2018)
- 8 – Voices From Beyond (1991)
- 9 – Dearest Sister (2016)
- 10 – Patrick (1978)
- 11 – The Transfiguration (2016)
- 12 – The House at the End of Time (2013)
- 13 – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
- 14 – The Hallow (2015)
- 15 – Night of the Demons (1988)
- 16 – Deep Dark (2015)
- 17 – The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)
- 18 – Black Sheep (2006)
- 19 – The Battery (2012)
- 20 – Eaten Alive (1976)
- 21 – Satan’s Slaves (2017)
- 22 – Evolution (2015)
- 23 – Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)
- 24 – The Dead Center (2018)
- 25 – Your Vice is a Locked Room and I Have the Only Key (1972)
- 26 – The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
- 27 – Here Comes the Devil (2012)
- 28 – Gretel & Hansel (2020)
- 29 – Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
- 30 – The Stepfather (1987)
- 31 – In Fabric (2018)
Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!
Two things came to mind when reading this – one was a vague memory of a film where people were in old red phoneboxes, in various stages of decomposition – something about getting trapped. Going to have to research that one now, but something tells me Scott will know.
The second was The Bar appears to be the film Phone Booth wished it was.