By and large, most of the horror offerings to come out of Spain in the wake of that country’s post –[REC] genre boom have been hit-or-miss affairs in and of themselves that tend to offer more by way of visual and thematic than actual storytelling interest, but stripping things away and getting back to basics can sometimes yield interesting results, and it doesn’t get much more basic than the set-up offered by director Rafa Martinez (who also co-wrote the script along with Angel Agudo) for his 2015 low-budgeter, Sweet Home (now available via Netflix streaming; no word yet, at least that I know of, on a Blu-ray and/or DVD release in the US) : young real estate agent Alicia (played by Ingrid Garcia Jonsson) happens upon a seemingly-abandoned apartment building and plans a romantic late-night rendezvous there with her boyfriend, Simon (Bruno Sevilla). What they don’t know, though, is that the owner of the property has been clearing it out on purpose to sell it off, and that there’s one tenant left who just won’t budge, so he’s decided to remove them from the premises the old-fashioned way : by hiring a gang of thugs to bust down the door and murder ’em. Alicia and Simon see it all go down, and soon find themselves in a white-knuckled struggle for survival against axe-wielding pscyhos — and if they can’t get the job done, then a a muscle-bound brute known only as El Liquidador (Oriol Tarrida Homedes) is always available as a last resort —
“Survival horror” is big these days, of course, and Sweet Home (shot, for the most part, in English, apart from an opening scene that would greatly benefit from having some actual subtitles included) gives us a reasonably unique Spanish twist on tropes that are threatening to become over-used here in the US, with just a dash off Roberta Findlay’s Tenement thrown in for good measure. It’s obviously in no way particularly original, but so what? As long as the ride is a rocky one, there’s not a lot more you can ask from a premise like this.
So — is it rocky, then? Oh, my yes. Very much so. Martinez throws you in at the deep end and doesn’t let up. There’s no such thing as a tension-free moment on offer here — even the quiet ones are fraught with peril — and if genuine suspense (admittedly at the expense of just about everything else) is your bag, then you’re going to find a lot to like in Sweet Home. Our protagonists just plain aren’t gonna live unless they can get out the door, but given that their pursuers know the layout of the building much better than they do, and that they have numbers on their side, and that El Liquidador is waiting in the wings, well — I don’t know how you say “it’s not gonna be easy” in Spanish, but it’s not.
Mindless thrill rides — when done with a suitable amount of style and panache, of course — are almost always fun, and Martinez, aided and abetted by a fine cast, knows exactly what buttons to push and when to make sure you never get too far from the very edge of your seat. I’ve seen better and more involving horror films this year, sure, but none more out-and-out thrilling. This is 80 minutes of bad road you definitely want to buckle up for.