Although it is a privilege of life to grow old, it isn’t always easy. Physically, life moves at a different pace than what you were used. Mentally, solitude and loneliness slowly creep up on the elderly as they are ignored and pushed aside to make way for the youth of the world. But when these individuals begin to act strange, and when strange becomes dangerous, your concern for their safety is then redirected back to yourself. Get ready, because it’s about to get really weird in here. Discover “Viejos” (“The Elderly”), coming to us from Spain, which made its world premiere at Fantasia Festival.
Manuel (Zorion Eguileor), an elderly man, is seemingly, and understandably, in a state of shock and confusion after his wife of countless decades has unexpectedly committed suicide. Worried for the well-being of his father, Mario (Gustavo Salmerón) takes him in to live with his little family; his new wife Lena (Irene Anula) and his teenage daughter Naia (Paula Gallego). Manuel doesn’t say much, acts bizarrely, but it’s when he begins to become threatening that the family is truly alarmed. As they are worried for his well-being and terrified for theirs, they also don’t know that every elderly person in town is also behaving strangely and dangerously, and things are about to get much, much worse…
Co-directors Raúl Cerezo and Fernando González Gómez were accompanied by their team of co-writers, Rubén Sánchez Trigos and Javier Trigales, as well as their composer, Eneko Vadillo, to present their film in front of the eagerly awaiting Fantasia audience in Montreal, Quebec. The entire group’s non-verbal language exuded sheer excitement and pride to have made the trip to Canada to present their film in front of an audience for the very first time. Fortunately for the audience, “The Elderly” is an imposing and intimidating crescendo of the bizarre and horrific. A mysterious screenplay, combined with brilliant directorial techniques, a phenomenal cast, topped with a daunting soundtrack that creates a heavy atmosphere every second it scratches its increasingly discomforting violin symphonies is definitely a mix for a nearly perfect cocktail. You’ll definitely have audio flashbacks of the destabilizing score from 2013’s modern-day classic, “The Conjuring”, once you hear what Vadillo has composed for this Spanish feature film.
Although most of the cast is quite credible onscreen, exhibiting raw emotions of grief and despair, the two shining stars of “The Elderly” are undoubtedly Zorion Eguileor and Paula Gallego, who each interpret the grandfather and granddaughter. While Eguileor is stoic and in a constant state of shock, he can also impose a feeling of anxiety and intimidation simply by his presence onscreen. Gallego, for her part, is an unbelievably impressive 17-year-old actress who is capable of displaying innocence, love and affection for her grandfather through her gaze, just as much as she can force the audience to feel her fear and distress when things go south.
If there is one aspect to criticize about the film is its slightly excessive use of non-contextual audio jumpscares. Here’s what is meant by this: when a film includes a cranked-up audio shocking moment in the hopes of terrorizing an audience, there are two categories of jumpscares that are acceptable and, ironically, “pleasant” or entertaining. The first type is one that, along with the audio scare, includes a visually haunting image that is sure to be etched in your mind for days. Combined with the acoustic cue, this scene becomes one to be discussed for ages. Examples of this type of jumpscare could be Amber Tamblyn’s character, Katie, in 2002’s “The Ring” when she is found in the closet, disfigured in terror, or the momentary chase scene in the hospital in “The Exorcist III” from 1990. The second category is one where the loud, surprising sound comes from an event that is actually contextual to the scene. For instance, a door slamming shut or an alarm going off on a beside clock. Too many times in this day and age of horror movies, and “The Elderly” unfortunately is guilty of utilizing this technique, there are scenes where, for instance, the protagonist is unexpectedly touched on the shoulder by a non-threatening character’s hand and an extremely loud percussion or screaming sound is added to shock the audience in a “cheap pop” kind of way. Rest assured, however, that despite this method being present a handful of times, “The Elderly” packs a whole lot of heavy atmosphere and terrifying visuals to make you forget it.
In the last 10-12 years, Spain has brought us some memorable horror films that have left a mark on Fantasia. In 2011, “Sleep Tight” made fans check under their bed before they went to sleep. In 2014, “Shrew’s Nest” made the audience suspicious of what happens behind closed doors for those who seem quiet and innocent. All of this, without even brushing the topic of the legendary “REC” films, brings us to 2022 where you will definitely be keeping a closer eye on the elderly who surround you. “Viejos” is awarded with a solid grade of 8/10.