THE NAMELESS (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Disturbing Images, Graphic Nudity and Language

(Spanish with English subtitles)

Nameless poster

Directed by: Jaume Balaguero

Written by: Jaume Balaguero

(based on the novel THE NAMELESS by Ramsey Campbell)

Starring: Emma Vilarasau, Karra Elejalde, Tristan Ulloa

THE NAMELESS is the feature film debut from Spanish horror master Jaume Balageuero. He’s made waves on the film scene with the REC, REC 2, and SLEEP TIGHT. After watching THE NAMELESS, it has become all too clear that this man arrived with humble beginnings. This film may be based on a notable novel by acclaimed horror author Ramsey Campbell, but it far from good. The adaptation may have garnered a lot of praise from certain sectors of the horror community, but it’s a definite polarizing watch. I’ve seen people loving or hating it. There isn’t much middle ground on this one and I fall squarely into the latter. This is what happens when you take an interesting idea and screw it up in nearly every possible way.

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A young girl goes missing and her body is found a short while later. The mangled, burnt, and desecrated remains of the child are so severely disfigured that the victim can only be identified by two key pieces of evidence, neither of which is fully concrete. Five years pass, the now-divorced mother (Claudia) of the murdered girl is deeply depressed. The anniversary of her daughter’s death is coming up and she’s taken a couple of weeks off work to gather herself together. That’s when the phone rings and a teenage girl’s voice on the other line claims to be the supposedly dead little girl. Working off coincidences and disturbing revelations, Claudia and Massera (the detective who discovered the body) dive into a dark mystery that involves pain, torture, and pure evil. There is a chance that Claudia’s daughter is still alive, but what will be the cost of finding her?

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After it won a notable award at the 1999 Fantasia Film Festival, Dimension films picked up THE NAMELESS for release in America. It took them until 2005 to finally get it out on DVD. They tagged along with Jaume Balaguero’s first English-language feature (DARKNESS, which had also sat on a shelf for two full years). It was a quick cash-grab and DARKNESS (though flawed in its own ways) wound up being a far superior effort from this director. To be fair to Balaguero’s writing skills, I hear that Ramsey Campbell’s novel wasn’t that great to begin with. Apparently, Balaguero actually attempted to take the story in a darker direction. The story does have a really dark conclusion and some disturbing imagery to boot, but it comes off with no rhyme or reason. In order for any of this to be affective, one must be invested in the characters at hand. I didn’t care about a single person in this entire movie. The conclusion could have been devastating, if there were enough reasons to care about what happened to any of these people. Part of this can be chalked up to hammy acting, but the remainder is strictly on the fault of a badly written script and a poorly directed film.

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Throughout the plot, every detail that should have been interesting comes off as boring. Torture, mutilation, and even a video tape of murder come off as shrug-inducing. In order to try to get a jump out of the viewer, quick editing and loud noises have been constantly thrown in as scene transitions. Think how the AUSTIN POWERS films transitioned from scene to scene with close-ups of Mike Myers surrounded by models, while groovy music played. Now apply that same technique to a horror film with supposedly spooky images (including a blood-soaked little girl) and some loud noises. It’s annoying in either context, but it’s made more aggravating in a film that the audience is supposed to take seriously. The music score is atrocious and over-the-top as well. Some potentially creepy scenes are compromised due to a silly soundtrack. Sometimes, restraint is better and Jaume Balaguero has clearly learned from this because later efforts like SLEEP TIGHT use music scores just enough to benefit the film. He also doesn’t blast them in every scene, unlike this annoying score.

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Then there’s the ending itself. It’s a plot twist so ludicrous that I was expecting M. Night Shyamalan to jump out and yell “What a twist!” It would be an understatement to say the ending isn’t the devastating revelation that it should have been. The final scene is laughable and doesn’t come off as convincing or remotely scary. With all my bitching about THE NAMELESS, one might be surprised to find that I actually did enjoy a couple of elements about this film. Even if the music score compromised most of it, the film builds a strong atmosphere in a couple of scenes. The cinematography is stunning. It’s clear that there may have been some inspirations drawn from SE7EN as far as the look of the film goes. The opening is also fairly creepy, which makes the downward spiral in quality that follows that much more disappointing.

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Slow-burn horror films can be nothing short of brilliant, but they can also be tedious wastes of time when done wrong. THE NAMELESS is the latter. This had such a promising plot that begs to be a creepy and disturbing piece of cinema. Instead, it’s a massive disappointment. Luckily, Jaume Balaguero has grown as a solid horror director throughout the years and drastically improved since. THE NAMELESS isn’t worth your time, even if you’re a horror purist. This is one of the few foreign horror films I’ve seen that could hugely benefit from a remake…

Grade: D

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