Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
Shrew’s Nest has been on my Shudder watchlist for ages, and I figured this was as good a time as any to try it. Many of my favourite horror films have come out of Spain, and I’m always on the lookout for more. I didn’t really know anything about this one beyond it starring the always reliable Macarena Gómez. The two directors were new to me, although there were a few familiar names in the cast and crew, including Álex de la Iglesia as executive producer. Let’s see how all this comes together.
Shrew’s Nest is currently available on Shudder in the UK.
Monste and her younger sister, whose name we never learn, live together in a spacious flat in 1950s Madrid. While the sister has a job as a shop assistant, Montse works from home as a seamstress. The sexual and emotional abuse Montse suffered at the hands of her late father have left her emotionally damaged, and she suffers from severe agoraphobia. Even stepping over the threshold of the front door brings on a debilitating panic attack.
Compounding this is the strict religious upbringing both women endured. While Montse clings to the most morbid aspects of Catholicism, her sister rejects it, unaware that her misgivings are rooted in dim memories of the role religion played in her sister’s abuse.
Montse worries that her sister will soon move out and make a life for herself, leaving Monste all alone. Hope unexpectedly enters Montse’s life, however, when Carlos, her upstairs neighbour, falls down the stairs and breaks his leg just outside her flat.
Montse tends to Carlos, manipulating him with lies and morphine, slowly making him her prisoner. Her attempts to win his heart stumble, however, when he starts developing feelings for her sister instead. This pushes Montse over the edge.
Will Montse be able to manipulate Carlos into loving her? Why isn’t Carlos making more of an attempt to escape? And what really happened to Montse’s father all those years ago?
While the unnamed girl is very much the protagonist of Shrew’s Nest, this is really Montse’s story. She is an embodiment of a cycle of abuse, shaped by the atrocities of her youth and unable to stop herself from committing atrocities of her own. The strongest aspect of the film is how it lets us sympathise with Montse even as she does terrible and repellent things.
The most obvious comparison seems to be the character of Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery, memorably portrayed by Kathy Bates in the 1990 film adaptation. They both use drugs and lies to manipulate captive men, and share a willingness to maim their captives when this fails. Wilkes is a very different kind of human monster, however. While both women are driven by loneliness, there is a lot more pathos to Montse’s pathology. She genuinely seems to want to make normal human connections with the people around her but is too damaged to do so.
Montse strikes me as something closer to Frederick Clegg, the protagonist of The Collector by John Fowles (also adapted into a memorable film, starring Terrence Stamp and Samantha Eggar). Much like Montse, he is emotionally stunted, with underdeveloped social skills that make it difficult for him to bond with those around him. Rather than having the object of his obsession fall into his lap, however, he kidnaps a young woman, keeping her prisoner in the hope that she will learn to love him. Fowles manages the same trick of making Clegg perversely sympathetic, but also takes the narrative to a harrowing conclusion that makes Shrew’s Nest feel hollow in comparison.
While I found Shrew’s Nest engaging enough, it didn’t really pack enough of an emotional punch. The performances are strong, the production design is lovely, and the story escalates nicely. Macarena Gomez is especially impressive as Montse, giving us a character who is vulnerable, pitiable, and yet utterly monstrous. Despite all these strengths, I knew by the end that Shrew’s Nest was not going to linger long in my thoughts once I’d written this review.
Part of the problem is certainly that we’ve seen so much of this story before. While Montse’s agoraphobia and religious mania add some new wrinkles, the story is ultimately a weak echo of Misery and The Collector. It’s fine for what it is, but I wish it had been able to surprise me.
Despite this overfamiliarity, Shrew’s Nest is perfectly entertaining. The tone melds touches of Gothic melodrama with giallo, and turns quite shockingly bloody in the final act. There are some good moments of dark humour that offset the oppressiveness of Montse’s physical and emotional seclusion. I certainly never felt bored or impatient, which puts Shrew’s Nest ahead of a number of films on this month’s list. Still, I can’t say I feel overly moved to recommend it.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
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:
- Dark August (USA, 1976)
- Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
- The Banishing (UK, 2020)
- Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
- Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
- Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
- Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
- You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
- No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
- The Sect (Italy, 1991)
- Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
- Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
- 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
- The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
- In the Earth (UK, 2021)
- Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
- Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
- Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
- Older Gods (UK, 2023)
- Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
- Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
- Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
- The Premonition (USA, 1976)
- Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
- The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
- Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
- Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
- Demon (Poland, 2015)
- Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
- El Conde (Chile, 2023)
- The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)
A Final Note
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 Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- 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!