HOUSE OF SPAIN
Don't Listen (18)
Review: RJ Bland
Netflix doesn't have the best reputation amongst genre fans when it comes to original content. However, although there have undoubtedly been some underwhelming releases, over the last three or four years the streaming platform has produced a few gems. Two Mike Flanagan releases count among these, with both Gerald's Game (2017) and Hush (2016) being Netflix originals. We've also had Gareth Evans' Apostle (2018) and the incredible The Perfection (2019) too. Osgood Perkin's I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the Basement may divide audiences, but it's also a Netflix produced title. We've also had some foreign language releases too. Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (2017), Veronica (2017), May the Devil Take You (2018) and Ravenous (2017) are amongst the best of this batch. Genre films on Netflix don't receive much fanfare before their release on the platform – which makes for a nice little surprise when you log on and see something new – and that you probably have never heard of. Such is the case with Netflix's latest offering, Spanish horror Don't Listen.
Hot middle-aged couple Daniel and Sara are those annoying type of people who buy houses, do them up and sell them on for a huge profit. They're a couple of 'Flippers'. After making a killing on their previous project, they move into an huge old country house with the aim of doing it up and turning a healthy profit. The place is quite dilapidated (and obviously pretty darn creepy) but there's the potential to make a lot of moolah. Whilst the parents get to work, their nine year old son, Eric, spends his time playing with toys and...well, communicating with something rather sinister sounding over his walkie talkie. His child therapist may think it's all down to his vivid imagination and anxiety over not settling in one house – but the longer the family stay in their new temporary home, the more apparent it becomes that Eric might not be making stuff up for shits and gigs. And whatever resides in the house might not only have been there for quite a long time, but may also have rather insidious intentions...
Don't Listen is something of a Frankenstein's Monster of a movie, curating elements from modern ghost flicks and shows like Insidious, The Conjuring and The Haunting of Hill House and even lashings of J-Horror. There's a fine line however between 'potent mix' and 'derivative' but fortunately Angel Gomez Hernandez's debut feature stays on the right side of it, for the most part.
It's also a film that is relentless in its pursuit of scares. Maybe a little bit too much, in fact. A good number of these are also jump scares too (perhaps the easiest to achieve) but there is enough atmosphere building and dread inducement to make some of them feel earned at least. Whilst some of the frights aren't anything we haven't seen before (walkie talkie audio stuff, things hiding under beds, children drawing creepy shit), there are enough that work for it to retain a sense of tension and suspense – much of it down to Hernandez's use of light (or lack of it) and intelligent framing. What makes Don't Listen a bit more interesting than some of the lesser Conjureverse titles however is that it's actually prepared to go into some quite dark places (not just literally) and it's got a bit of a brutal edge to it too. There's an event that occurs about twenty minutes in that leaves the viewer in no doubt that this is not a 'safe' movie – and that you might want to reassess where you think this is all heading. And although the antagonist pops up every five minutes it seems, the film importantly always keeps them at least partially obscured or hiding within the shadows.
Where it does ultimately head is not anywhere particularly new or original quite frankly. In the same way that it apes the style and tone of other successful modern genre films, it also has no qualms in borrowing their well worn story tropes either. There are a few intriguing (and shocking) bumps along the way and the introduction of the father-daughter team of EVP specialists halfway through mixes things up quite effectively too. But for the most part, Don't Listen is quite content to remain within the comfy confines of supernatural horror canon (until perhaps the very end).
The cast list is small but all the better for it. Rodolfo Sancho and Belen Fabra are both convincing in rather gruelling roles and Ramon Barea and Ana Fernandez serve up a slightly lighter dynamic when they enter the fray. Children in these types of films can often be a bit too cute or slick but Lucas Blas is guilty of neither of these things. The characters all feel a little underdeveloped but that's more to do with the script than the performances. Hernandez (and his three co-writers) are more focused on trying to deliver thrills and chills than they are in building up character backstory. The film is also guilty of some rather clunky exposition dumps and a few other beats that feel a bit rushed and lazy. Some flashbacks in the final act also feel a bit shoehorned in too – and although the mythology is suitably unsettling, there are still some logic gaps come the end of the film.
Ultimately though, as with most genre movies, average or run-of-the-mill scripting and characters are more easily forgiven if the horror elements are up to scratch – and whilst the film undoubtedly feels like bit of a cocktail of elements from other (and largely better) movies – there is still enough here to appease those looking for a few good scares.