Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Plot: A 19th century family living in seclusion is visited by an evil being that feeds on fear. Can little Diego save his mother from the beast–and herself?
Isolation breeds paranoia and paranoia makes for great horror (John Carpenter’s The Thing is epic proof of that). While there aren’t any shape-shifting aliens to be found in The Wasteland, the story of a mother’s loneliness spiraling into a living nightmare for her and her young son is on full display in this Spanish language film.
Although it takes place in the 19th century the story is one that current audiences can relate to with a majority of people having to isolate themselves in their homes for long periods of time. And The Wasteland takes these themes and adds a heavy dose of psychological (and possibly supernatural) twists that make for an interesting take on the subject.
Now I know this isn’t going to appeal to everyone especially those who may go into it expecting lots of supernatural thrills. This is one of those horror movies that focuses more on the characters than the plot. Starting off with three people, Father Salvador (Roberto Alamo) who wants his son to learn how to hunt and shoot, mother Lucia (Inma Cuesta) who prefers to keep their son’s world free of anything “dangerous” and coddles him endlessly, and son Diego (Asier Flores) who loves both his parents but like most young children he is a bit intimidated by his Dad and prefers to spend his days playing with his Mom.
Living in isolation to seek safety in their war-torn country their lives are simple and seemingly content until one day after finding a gravely injured soldier Salvador abruptly leaves his family and it’s left to Lucia and Diego to fend for themselves. As time passes we see Lucia fall victim to depression and with tales of an entity that feeds off your fears resonating with them both (Salvador used to tell Diego stories of a creature that took his sister’s life) the madness within Lucia seemingly pervades their lives as they both believe something is coming to get them.
I truly enjoy films such as these where you’re not quite sure if what you’re seeing is real or the effects of isolation and paranoia of the characters shown. Most of what occurs we get to experience through Diego’s eyes and young actor Asier Flores is to be commended for delivering a fantastic performance here. Compared to The Babadook (a movie with a similar premise) where I found that kid to be annoying as hell (although I understand that was the point) Flores is relatable and very believable in his role as a young child forced to take up the mantle of “adult” to protect himself and the one person he has left in his life, even if that person might be the most dangerous element around him.
It was a smart choice on the part of the writers to make Diego our proxy instead of his mother because it keeps you guessing as to whether what they’re experiencing is just the effects of his mother’s psyche breaking or something nightmarishly real.
The film also takes it time building on their relationship so when things inevitably go bad there’s a true sense of fear you feel for these characters. I can’t help but think this is the kind of movie Guillermo del Toro would appreciate as he’s the type of person who recognises the all too real suffering of children trapped in a world at war and loves using fantastical elements to express this. Kudos also has to be given to Inma Cuesta as Lucia. Her turn from loving mother into broken hearted woman is difficult to watch just because these two play so well off each other you’re really hoping they make it out okay.
Sadly, like the food source of rabbits in this movie, The Wasteland slowly dries up in terms of tension and all of the solid drama it took time to build on as the movie gets to its climax. And, unlike the aforementioned film The Babadook, where you were on the edge of your seat during the finale and you’re left with an ambiguous ending that made for great dissection (nothing better than when a group of friends get together to discuss a movie is there), The Wasteland isn’t as subtle with its metaphors. So I think most viewers will have figured out what was happening much earlier on and in doing so you’re left just waiting for the screen to go black. It’s a shame because you can tell a lot of passion went into making this; I just wish the director and writers trusted their audience a bit more. It would’ve made for a much better movie.
It’s not as memorable as The Babdook but The Wasteland boasts engaging performances and rich cinematography on what I can assume was a much smaller budget than say a film like The Witch, so for that alone I recommend giving it a chance.
Sommer’s Score: 6 out of 10
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Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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