Not a person above the age of 30 hasn’t worried about getting old. But, by our 40s and 50s, we aren’t just concerned about it; we are forced to take a front-row seat to the devastation that some have to face. For every person who grows old gracefully, there is one who struggles with the disease, pain, and dementia. As the underappreciated shark movie Deep Blue Sea points out, aging is a disease. Our fear of becoming weakened or incapacitated is strong. The idea that we could become a burden to our families and lose autonomy is very real and terrifying. Raúl Cerezo and Fernando González Gómez’s The Elderly take that inherent fear and mix it with supernatural elements. Impactful imagery and enigmatic clues prove that getting old is the end of the world.
The Spanish language film The Elderly is the kind of movie that gets under your skin. Carefully crafted to build tension from the most mundane moments, it is a cerebral film that is creepier than traditionally scary. Cerezo and Gómez’s most recent movie, The Passenger, is a different beast. The genre-bending horror comedy is coarse and wacky. The Elderly, on the other hand, relies on atmospheric dread and slow-burning tension to produce a sweaty, anxious film that makes you think more than it actually frightens you.
A horrendous heat wave is making the elderly act strangely. Once-kind grandparents are now aggressive and disturbing. Is it the heat putting everyone on edge? When Mario’s (Gustavo Salmerón) mother commits suicide on the first day of the weather event, his father Manuel, an impressively committed Zorion Eguileor from The Platform, slides into dementia. The man lies in bed while his wife leapt from their balcony. Little context is given as to why she did this, but an unpleasant focus on the aftermath makes it clear this will be an uncomfortable film. Sound work is especially good at setting the mood for what is to come.
Mario moves Manuel into his family home against his new wife Lena’s (Gustavo Salmerón) wishes, and things quickly spiral out of control. As the heat rises, so does the odd behavior. It becomes obvious Manuel has problems Mario and his family can’t fix. Where does responsibility for those who raised you end and care for your wife and child begin? Mario decides too late that whatever is going on with Manuel is beyond his abilities. Making matters worse, it appears all of the community’s elderly are being affected.
Writers Cerezo, Rubén Sánchez Trigos, and Javier Trigales say a lot about our treatment of the elderly. Through three generations, we see how society views the aged. Some are disgusted and afraid, others feel tremendous guilt, while the third treats them like idealized children. Each of the three main points of view feels superficial, however. Lena comes across as a selfish harpy, and Mario has a strange unemployed plot point that goes nowhere and doesn’t factor into the story. Only Naia, as the sole youthful POV, feels real. She is naive, angry, and myopic, like many teenagers can be. Unfortunately, she isn’t given much to do until the end except to be young.
The maddening storytelling hints at the cause of all the weirdness. Cryptic messages, fevered pleas, and a decidedly creepy song that seems to be played everywhere all contribute to the overall feeling of madness. Something wants chaos and is driving towards an inevitable eventuality, but we don’t learn what that is until late in the film.
The Elderly makes you feel hot and bothered without knowing why. It puts the viewer in the shoes of those desperately trying to suss out the danger while remaining true to their families. Up is down, and right is left in this place. Manuel and his ilk are predatory when they should be vulnerable. Mario sees his father’s unsettling behavior but feels too guilty to heed the warning from Lena. A midpoint shock makes it clear he should have listened to Lena. One extended gory scene is worthy of a good squirm.
Ignacio Aguilar’s cinematography is textured and gorgeous. Everything is shot in pale tones of brown, gray, and orange. Stairways, kitchen tables, and bathrooms are all caught in a washed-out pallet, making them feel old and used up. Shadows string to life everywhere which makes the eerie moments more effective. Things don’t look right in this town. Light doesn’t penetrate the dark as it should. Frown lines are too deep, and gaunt faces are elongated and sunken-in beyond expectation.
This film chooses to build slowly toward something big rather than small bursts of fear along the way. Unfortunately, an intense focus on restraint bogs the film down in places. Just when a great scare is about to be unleashed, Cerezo and Gómez pull back until the final act that can’t be denied. It manages to be intense yet just as ambiguous as the rest of The Elderly. As great as the finale is, I wished there had been more meat along the way. Their commitment to simmering weirdness was frustrating in the second act, which featured many lurking people, strange notes, and little else.
The final act turns up the heat as has been signposted with place cards indicating the temperature rise each day. It is unexpectedly brutal and worth the wait. With lasting imagery, beautiful camera work, and a few committed performances, The Elderly is a film you won’t forget.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.