In The Wasteland fear is contagious. Here’s everything you need to know about the beast and that ambiguous ending.
Netflix’s Spanish horror film The Wasteland, also titled The Beast, El Páramo, or The Moor, is a psychological slow burn in the same vein as It Comes At Night. Comparisons to 2019’s The Wind would be reasonable as well. That is another story about the isolation that breeds insanity. Or does it? The highly symbolic and unsettling The Wasteland is about finding the courage to go on and the power of fear. Director David Casademunt’s first film is a strong showing. He understands how to capture the concept of fear without showing its face. Interesting angles and lighting make the most of the single claustrophobic set.
Diego and his mother and father live a solitary but pleasant egalitarian life. Text at the beginning of the film explains that after years of war, Spain is ruined, and many people have chosen to cut themselves off from society for their own protection. Their peaceful life is interrupted when an injured man appears on their land. From that point forward, nothing will ever be the same. When Lucia becomes convinced a beast is hunting them, Diego’s happy childhood is turned upside down. As the walls close in around them, they must fight for their lives against the beast and themselves. Is there really a monster waiting to strike, or is the actual danger inside them?
Is there a beast in Wasteland?
Salvador first tells the beast’s story to Diego on the night of his birthday. He describes the monster as being tall with hollow eyes. Salvador explains the beast preys on the weak and fearful. When the suicidal man shoots himself in the head, he points into the distance before picking up the gun. The gesture could be a simple clue to what direction he was from, or it could point to a greater evil coming for Diego and his family. Before this, the beast was never seen or heard. In fact, Lucia denies that any such creature exists. The beast is seen by Diego, and his mother after Salvador leaves to return the dead man to his family.
The beast is madness, losing hope, and surrendering to fear. Diego and his mother see and hear the beast. Salvador claims to have seen him as a child as well. Although the beast could be seen as a metaphor for depression, small events prevent this rigid reading of the story. The cans and string that Lucia gives Diego on his birthday move and speak to Diego. Glasses are thrown around the room, and footsteps are heard on the roof and kitchen. Diego even sees the beast during their final confrontation.
The beast could be a manifestation of all their fear that Diego sees because his mother believes so strongly. Like The Babadook, the beast is the physical representation of their anxiety and grief. A second possibility is the beast in The Wasteland could be a human person who they only see as a beast because they are so scared. Finally, there could be an actual evil that feeds off of fear and desperation. Regardless of your interpretation, Diego finds the courage to stand up and defend himself.
Symbolism and the color red in The Wasteland
Diego’s rabbits are the living embodiment of his innocence. The gun and later the knife his mother teaches him how to kill with represents his change to manhood and the fear that can cripple you. Once his mother completely loses touch and he is forced to tie her up, he has to kill his beloved rabbit to feed her. This marks the end of his childhood. When he burns his childhood home with the gun inside, he is burning his fear.
Red plays an essential part in understanding what is happening in The Wasteland. Most of the film is drenched in neutral colors—lots of browns, greens, and yellows. When the stark crimson color makes an appearance, it marks a significant shift in tone. When we first see red, it is only in hints and mixed with other colors. Diego’s mother wears a red and white shawl, and his father has a red scarf glimpsed underneath his coat. On Diego’s birthday, his mother wears a red dress she brought before the war. In that instance, red is a reminder of happier times.
Red is also the color of blood and the loss of innocence. Next, red makes a bloody appearance when a man who is badly injured in a boat on their land is discovered. Salvador tries to tend to his wounds and wrings blood into the water on their land. At that point, their existence becomes tainted by fear and the beast. Salvador manages to help the mysterious man, but he wanders into their cabin, points into the distance, and uses Diego’s gun to kill himself. From this point forward, their home is tainted by violence and fear.
The floor of their dwelling and his mother are stained with his blood. Later as Diego and his mother are doing laundry, a red strip of material hangs on the clothesline when his mother starts shooting at empty space. Red lastly marks the transition from fear to acceptance. This is why Lucia puts the red dress on at the end of the film just before she pushes Diego out of the house. She has accepted her fate. It is important to note that Diego rips a few pieces of her dress to use as dressings for his injured hands at the end, signifying that he has also accepted that his childhood is over and the future lies before him.
Fear and growing up
In Netflix’s latest Spanish import, both play an integral role. Throughout the film, Diego’s father and then his mother try to prepare Diego to care for and defend himself. His father trains him for the harsh realities of life by telling him to kill his pet rabbits and learning to shoot a gun. Initially, his mother is resistant to him maturing. She thinks her husband is too hard on him and coddles the boy. Later after Salvador leaves and something terrifying begins hunting them, she continues to stop him from growing up all while demanding things from him a parent shouldn’t.
Shortly after Salvador leaves, they continue as they had before he left. They tend the small farm, play games, and wait for his return. Days turn into weeks, and then a year goes by with no sign of Diego’s father. The longer he is gone, the more Lucia retreats from reality. She becomes convinced something is on the barren land stalking them. Her fear becomes a contagion that finds them locked inside their house. As much as Lucia fights against the beast, she also fights against her own instincts to end her life.
Diego tries to assume the role of man of the house, preparing meals, doing chores, caring for his mother, and sitting in Salvador’s spot at the table, but Lucia refuses to let him and smothers him with fear of the unseen beast. She repeatedly thinks she sees the beast and shoots at seemingly nothing night after night. Finally, when he cuts his mother down from the rope, she tries to hang herself with he has to admit his mother’s illness.
This is the point that he leaves his childhood behind. Their roles are reversed, and he is forced to act as her parent and protector. In the final act, he takes up an ax to save his mother from the beast or herself. Unfortunately, he is unsuccessful. He finds his mother with her throat slit and sees the beast. He confronts the creature and bravely demands he leave. The creature retreats, but it is too late for Lucia.
In the final scene, Diego looks down at his bloodied hands which mirror his father’s after tending to the injured man. His transition from child to adult is complete. He wraps scraps of his mother’s red dress around his hands and sets off to find a new future.
The young girl
The young girl that comes to Diego in a dream is Salvador’s sister. She tells him that the beast came to her and killed her. Next, she shows Diego her dead body lying below a window and tells him the beast is coming for him too. When Diego tells his mother that he knew the beast was coming because Salvador’s sister told him, Lucia says that was just a story. Lucia says the girl jumped to her death to escape being beaten daily by her parents. The beast of hopelessness came for Salvador’s sister, which is why she is dead. Just as Salvador’s sister gave up hope, so did Lucia when she descended into madness. After Salvador’s horse returns with his things but no rider, Lucia completely loses touch with reality. She locks them into their house and waits to die.
Diego chooses to live unafraid and hopefully without violence. After hauling his mother in the wheelbarrow away from the fire, he finds she has died. He leaves her in the water and remembers her before Salvador left. Her poignant words from earlier ring true. He asked her if you could ever see those who died again, and she said, “If you close your eyes for a moment, it’s possible you can.” With the memory of his mother and newfound courage, he sets off to face the world.
The Wasteland is available on Netflix right now.
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.