Written by Stephanie | Rated: 4 Stars - A Little Beef, Horror | Posted on 11-11-2011

I tend to have a strange positive prejudice when it comes to films made in languages other than English. It’s actually a lot more sensible than most of my other prejudices (of which I have many, don’t we all?). The films that reach beyond the borders of the country that spawned them are generally of a fairly high quality, which is why they’re receiving international interest. However, when it comes to horror films, this prejudice isn’t just about expecting a film to be better shot, or to have better acting than its US counterparts. It’s about the inherent lack of familiarity with the environment, or the way the society that they are set in operates. That lack of comfort and knowledge often adds an extra frisson of tension for me. It also helps to cover up holes in characters motivations or plot points, as I can’t so easily rip something apart as unrealistic if I don’t really know the workings of the place it’s set.

My experience of Asian horror films started with Ringu in 1998 (13 years ago. Fuck, I am decrepitly old), and I went through a stage of watching as many as I could lay my hands on. It took me a fair old while to work out that it wasn’t that every single person in these films couldn’t act, or that characters didn’t give a shit about each other. It was about differences in the way people react to each other in other cultures. The Japanese simply aren’t as effusive as Americans, Koreans seem to have a strange sense of humour, the Chinese, well, Communism, you know?

Similarly, Spanish horror films seem to feature more than their fair share of women or young children in peril at the hands of a misogynistic, uncaring society. I’ve never lived in Spain, but given a lot of the films I’ve seen, I probably wouldn’t choose to go and retire alone in the countryside there. Although, realistically I doubt my, by then even more decrepit, self would hold much appeal to red blooded Spaniard men.

Shiver (Eskalofrio) was released in 2008 and centres on a young boy, Santi, who suffers from a condition that means he cannot be directly exposed to sunlight, the implications of which are beautifully captured in an opening dream sequence. He and his mother, Julia, live alone in a city in Spain and things don’t seem to be going well for them. Santi is isolated with few friends, and his condition is worsening. Julia doesn’t know what to do to make things better. So, at the behest of a Doctor, they decide to up sticks and move to a shadowy mountain village, where the sun rarely shines and Santi can run freely about the woods.

Sadly, he probably shouldn’t, for these woods are not safe. I thought that this film was going to be a body horror type affair, like last years Julia’s Eyes (another Spanish film about a woman in peril, at the hands of not-to-be-trusted men). The idea of being unable to escape the prison of one’s body is perhaps the most terrifying of all, and ripe for horror-exploitation. However, Santi’s condition becomes a backdrop, rather than a driving force in the story that unfolds.

The ‘big bad’ is revealed fairly early on, but I won’t spoil it for you here. There is nothing worse than a spoilt horror film, nothing perhaps apart from a ruined punchline. Both have the potential to destroy anything of worth and I think Shiver deserves more than that. For that same reason, I chose a screenshot, rather than the poster for the top there, as even that set off my spoiler-senses. I can say that the film doesn’t disappoint in terms of reinforcing the Spanish horror staple of women and children in peril at the hands of a male dominated community that accuses, rather than supports. Only one adult man here is of any use, and even he manages to make things worse before he attempts to make them better.

Fortunately, Santi isn’t an idiot, for the most part he realises that splitting up from friends, in the middle of nowhere, is not a good idea (it seems that, despite Scream, most idiots who populate this genre haven’t learned that yet), and he doesn’t keep things from his mother for no good reason. Their relationship is really rather sweet, and the fact that I cared about them helped me ignore some of the larger plot holes…. For there are certainly plot holes, although a late twist, and my aforementioned unfamiliarity with the Spanish system, helps to dispel some of these. I also appreciated Santi’s reaction to fear, which is exactly how I imagine I would react under similar circumstances. A true rarity in a horror film.

I wouldn’t call Shiver a classic, it certainly won’t stick with me for long and the final shot made me want to laugh more than scream. However, the characters and their actions are largely believable, it is beautifully shot and the levels of tension are high throughout, so i’d definitely recommend you seek it out if you fancy a bit of that in your life.