Buena Vista // 1999 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // May 27th, 2005
An intense thriller in the riveting style of Se7en and from the director of Darkness!
With strong performances and brilliant horror cinematography, The Nameless really hits the ground running. Then the bad script rears its ugly head, bringing the whole thing crumbling apart before eventually whimpering over the finish line ten minutes late. It's a shame, too, because after the first half hour I really thought I was going to enjoy this one.
A body of a young girl is found several weeks after Claudia's (Emma Vilarasau) daughter goes missing. Although the girl can't be positively identified, several key pieces of evidence suggest that it is indeed Claudia's daughter Angela. Life goes on for Claudia until suddenly, five years later, she receives a phone call from a girl who claims to be Angela and knows things that convince Claudia she is hearing the truth. She contacts Bruno (Karra Elejalde), the police officer who had been assigned to Angela's case. The two start to dig into the new evidence she finds, uncovering a cult that may have kidnapped Angela for a truly evil purpose. Their quest is paralleled by the investigation of a young reporter named Quiroga (Tristán Ulloa, Abre los ojos).
I really was shocked when The Nameless fell apart in the second act. The opening, following Bruno's discovery of the body, is unnerving and gut-wrenching. They don't pull any punches in showing the body, and the scene is intercut brilliantly with the credits and quick flashes of what we can only imagine is the death of the girl he is about to find. The film gets even stronger when it skips ahead five years, and we get to see flashes from Claudia's memories and dreams. It's impossible to tell what's real and what she is imagining, and the possibilities are endless. Is Angela a ghost? Was it really her that died? Has she been kidnapped? What happened during those five years? Is Claudia just imagining the whole thing? It's a great thriller setup, which begs for labyrinthine twists and turns through dreams and reality.
It's not that I mind when a director pulls out the conspiracy/cult card like director Jaume Balaguero (Darkness) does here. I liked The Crimson Rivers, which turned a serial killer mystery into a political conspiracy. I liked Brotherhood of the Wolf, which turned a werewolf movie into a mysterious cult conspiracy. Both of those movies were exciting, though, and had a strong enough plot to carry the audience through such jarring shifts in genre. The Nameless is not so lucky. Digging through the clues leading to the cult of the Nameless is downright dull, failing to maintain the suspense introduced at the beginning. It keeps the truth veiled in creepiness, but when the curtain is finally pulled back at the end, the wizard turns out to be small and pathetic. After the investigation, I would have expected some high powered, international organization of evil. What is ultimately discovered seems too small to waste this movie on, and the climax of the film is abrupt after the long, drawn out middle act. What made the other two films so successful was the surprise of learning just how huge the conspiracies were.
The lead actors do what they can with such generic roles. Emma Vilarasau has the most impressive role, believably frazzled and intense as Claudia. Some parents never get over the loss of a child, and Vilarasau captures this vulnerability perfectly. She can't let herself believe that Angela is gone forever, even when that quest starts to get dangerous. The other leads sleepwalk through their roles. Bruno is a harried cop who left the force after a tragedy, and Elejalde never does anything to own the role. Quiroga's role is even more of a mystery. He's a young reporter hot on the trail of a story no one else wants him to cover. He is simply a conduit for the information, so that the audience can learn the pertinent facts about the Nameless.
Balaguero's direction is slick and classy. He has a brilliant sense of horror timing, which leaps out from the first frame. Quick flashes of memory and dream are perfectly timed and never overused, though it takes a while before they make sense. Great lighting creates a dreamscape where people and objects disappear into deep shadows. Many critics have compared The Nameless to the work of David Fincher, and it's an apt visual comparison. If only he can learn to choose better scripts and find better pacing, Balaguero may have a horror masterpiece lurking in his future.
The transfer on the disc is attractive but unimpressive. The video has plenty of detail and solid colors, and an inky black level that enhances the cinematography. Unfortunately, there's dirt on the print that hasn't been cleaned in the process. There's no perfect sound option. The English track is a gut-tearing 5.1 track that leans on the LFE and surround channels. It really enhances the tone of the film, but the dub is a lot less inspiring. The Spanish track is a Dolby 2.0 surround track, which lacks the punch of the dub track but keeps the superior Spanish voices. To make the decision harder, Dimension has only included a dubtitle track, which doesn't feel like a very literal translation of the original. The disc has no extras.
Often, when a film like this is released trying to cash in on the success of a good American film (Seven) and a recent film from the same director (Darkness), it turns out to be a superior find. This could have been one of these, but it never pulls itself together. Although it doesn't succeed as a film, horror fans may want to give The Nameless a rental spin, to catch the strong tone and creepy visuals. It's simply not worth a purchase, even for people who love the genre. Everything in this film has been handled better in the past, and Balaguero must choose better scripts if he wants his impressive style to get the credit it deserves. A brief side note for Canadian viewers: I have no idea how this film managed to net a 14A rating. This is not for the kiddies, and not for your 15-year-old either. Do they even watch these movies before slapping a rating on them?
The Nameless is guilty, but needs no punishment from this court. It will disappear into obscurity, just like the members of the cult it is named after.
Review content copyright © 2005 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R