Marshland (2014) Review

Marshland posterMarshland (La Isla Minima) 2014

Director: Alberto Rodriguez

Starring: Javier Gutierrez, Raul Arevalo, Maria Varod, Perico Cervantes, Jesus Corroza

Limited UK Cinema Release from Aug 7th

UK DVD Release 14th September from Altitude Films

“That’s my knife.”

1980 Spain is the backdrop for the gritty police procedural Marshland. Gorgeously shot and tightly plotted this is a film to watch and savor. Dark, brutal and intriguingly political, Marshland is probably best appreciated by those with some knowledge of Spain’s history. I admit I had to pause the movie to go read Spain’s wiki page before returning to the film. Spain 1980 was a time of transition and some upheaval. Only a few years after the death of the dictator Franco and two years from the completion of the new Bourbon restoration. The sins of Franco’s era still loom large and the democracy is still fragile. Still with me? Let’s proceed to the review, I promise this pays off.

Two police officers, politically vocal Pedro (Arevelo) and the older sanguine Juan (Gutierrez) arrive in (according to the synopsis) Spain’s deep south, where two girls have gone missing. Pedro landed such an out-of-the-way assignment because he wrote a letter to the newspaper criticizing an (army?) General. He’s vocally democratic and his convictions have landed him what is basically a water logged middle-of-nowhere. Less is known about Juan, though as the movie unfolds his shady past as part of Franco’s Gestapo (the movie’s words not mine- I know next to nothing about Spain and am sorry for it) is revealed to Pedro. Juan is dying of what is probably prostate cancer and he’s just trying to keep his head down and do his job until the end comes.

Marshland 1The case of the two missing girls becomes a murder investigation when their bodies are found in the marshes. Then the murder investigation morphs into a hunt for a serial killer as Pedro and Juan discover more victims who also ‘disappeared’ and turned up dead. Though most of those deaths were written off as accidents or suicide. Complicating the investigation are the small town’s secrets, cruelty, and corruption.

Juan and Pedro carry on in the face of drug dealers, politics, and dishonesty. They don’t like each other very much, a situation which isn’t remedied by the end. Pedro is tightlipped and serious. Juan, charming and occasionally brutal. Apparently the police in 1980 Spain could do just about ANYTHING they wanted. Marshland in a noir film of the highest caliber. The brooding nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the beauty of the cinematography and the desolation of the setting. The sundrenched empty marshes give way to pockets of agriculture and humanity, but they are a wild place. Unnavigable without a guide and full of short-cuts and secrets. The rich birdlife of the marshes are used as a metaphor for Juan’s impending death and a reminder of his past.

The performances are amazing. The entire production is topnotch and fans of detective shows will want to watch this one. There is not a lot of gore, one user on IMDb compared it to Se7en, but Marshland is nowhere near as over-the-top. But it is restrained and richly nuanced. I would class it more with all the unrelentingly Swedish/Norwegian crime dramas and their imports like “The Killing” (in the US).

Marshland 3I’m not 100% sure on this, but Spain seems to be having a bit of a film renaissance lately. Putting out taught and riveting thrillers and horror , no matter what your stance on REC3… Add this one to your “watch list”.

Kudos for: OMG! Birds!!

Lesson learned: Learn more about Spain.