David Casademunt’s 2021 Spanish film The Wasteland or El Paramo is now streaming on Netflix. This Spanish horror drama stars the likes of Asier Flores, Imma Cuesta and Roberto Alamo in lead roles, whose phenomenal performances add to the overall tension within the film. Casademunt, who is touted as the “new promise of Spanish cinema”, makes a horrifying film that addresses the demons that transform us into dysfunctional adult humans.
Flores stars a young boy named Diego, who lives with his strict father, Salvador and kind mother, Lucia, in the isolated woods in 19th-century Spain. The family find themselves battling an invisible and unknown entity named ‘The Beast’ that feeds on people’s fears. It is the beast that allegedly made Salvador’s sister kill herself. According to Salvador, the person who sees the beast is finished.
Shortly after, the father is curious to find the family of a stranger who, in a bizarre act of madness, commits suicide inside their house, leaving Diego and his mother unprotected in the wilderness. Their nightmarish experiences are heightened by anxiety, alienation, paranoia and fear. Lucia, too, begins hallucinating about a certain entity in the vast abyss that surrounds their home, whereas Diego cannot seem to see it. Lucia’s anxious and manic behaviour is a result of this revelation, and she finds herself on the brink of madness.
As Lucia treads the dangerous talks of drowning herself in front of him and chops her hair off, the father seems to have perished with just his horse returning to the family in a state of frenzy. Lucia seems to be making predictions about when the beast is supposed to enter before attempting suicide. Diego steps in at the very last moment and deters her efforts, holding her back. The unseen beast comes and takes Diego away and sits with Lucia at the dinner table.
DespiteDiego’s repeated and frantic efforts to convince his mother to leave the dilapidated shack, Lucia locks herself in with the beast before injuring herself fatally. Diego shoots at the beast, carries his mother in a wheelbarrow, and attempts to burn down the house. Lucia has passed away, and the young Diego bids farewell to her body by floating in the river. He sees the reflection of the untamed beast in the water as well as in his eyes.
A part of the psychological horror genre, the film’s ambivalent approach leaves the viewers buzzing with questions regarding what happens to the family. The ending might confuse some, but it is pertinent to understand the filmmaker’s powerful metaphors in the film. The title itself reflects the idea of a film.
Like T.S. Eliot’s eponymous poem bears the essence of the desolation and despair of man and the psychological collapse (albeit after the first world war), the idea of the film might be read as the steady decline of mental health. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that had a negative impact on almost everybody globally, the film’s idea of isolation and the subsequent effects on one’s sanity seems essential.
It is also essential to acknowledge Diego’s attempt to break the chain of the various demons plaguing his family. His father comes from a troubled house and disappears, while his mother’s emotional degradation leads to suicide. Diego makes an effort and transforms these inner demons to aid himself in forging a new path for himself. Despite the uncertainty that looms large, he seems ready for a new journey, acknowledging the presence of the beast, but refuses to be haunted into submission by it.
A cold, dark tale of perseverance and courage against the backdrop of isolation, abandonment and insanity, The Wasteland is indeed a compelling watch.
Stream The Wasteland on Netflix now.