I’m pretty sure that The Day of the Beast is one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made. Alex de la Iglesia’s film is so loony and of-a-moment. It’s soaked in the 1990s, from the mise-en-scène through José María’s (Santiago Segura) metal obsession. The thing about The Day of the Beast is that it’s relentless. It begins with a bang (or rather, a crash, as a cross, in an omen of the coming of the antichrist, comes crashing down on a priest) and plows forward, nonstop.
The opening scene between Cura (Álex Angulo) and José María is a nice tone and style-setter.
That blue tone is later switched out for warmth, but there always feels like there’s a tint to the film. I love that first frame. The head in the foreground, frame left completes the composition and is just a little eerie. The list (that’s Napalm Death, Iron Maiden, and AC/DC) is hilarious.
Álex Angulo is fantastic as Cura, a priest committed to doing as much evil as possible in order to draw out the devil and therefore save the world. Sound logical? Other characters mention how absurd it sounds, but Cura is so dedicated to his plight throughout the film that we start to feel his resolve. This of course leads to plenty of comedy, including, probably my favorite moment, when he tells a dying man he’ll rot in hell while stealing his wallet.
I think the key here is that aforementioned commitment. Another film or director might have Cura playing it reluctantly, but de la Iglesia puts him right on the line of reveling. It’s far more entertaining.
de la Iglesia definitely has style, but he’s not reliant on gimmicks. The Day of the Beast is well made. I love the scene where Cura tries to drug Mina (Nathalie Seseña). de la Iglesia just uses her action of cooking on either side of the kitchen as motivation to move them, with Cura always nearby, stirring her drugged coffee:
It’s one long take, which continues with them getting closer to the lens:
This isn’t the entire take, but it’s snappy and crisp, accomplished basically with pans, and is at once tense and funny. It’s strong blocking where the actors have a lot of marks to hit in a small space. Good credence given to “give actors stuff to do,” and to the small stuff like leaning against a counter.
The Bar is de la Iglesia’s most recent film. At its best, it’s a paranoid comic-thriller about media misinformation and government conspiracy; at its worst it’s an exploitation film. It sort of oscillates between these, before spending its final third in the latter.
A group of people are in a bar. Someone outside gets shot. Magically, the body is removed. They question their sanity, they throw wild theories around, they accuse and turn on one-another (like in any good one-location thriller/horror film), their dark secrets are revealed, etc.
The Bar works when we don’t know what’s going on yet, when those theories are all still possible, and when de la Iglesia works masterfully with a lot of characters in one location. Some of his early composition and blocking is really awesome. It’s tough work to track 8 people as they move quite rapidly and frantically in tight quarters.
I loved this first third in particular. At a certain point the film starts to feel like an excuse to feature Elena (Blanca Suárez) with few clothes. She turns in a strong performance, but the last act doesn’t really do that justice as we get away from the paranoia that so strongly kicks the film into gear and move into something like a psychotic three-hander.