CLEMENTINA (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Horror movies based on serious and heavy topics can do really well. GET OUT is one example that comes to mind. CLEMENTINA showed its attempt at this during its North American premiere at this year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. The premise of domestic abuse can go really far in a horror, drama, or thriller. Sadly, CLEMENTINA falls flat. It could have been done really well, but its flaws hold it back.

CLEMENTINA begins with the unconscious, pregnant woman, Juana.  She bleeds out and is left for dead after her husband, Mateo, brutally beat her. He flees and she loses the baby girl she would’ve named Clementina. Juana refuses to cooperate with police or seek help from anyone. Instead, she further isolates herself in her apartment. She holds onto her love for Mateo even as she physically and mentally deteriorates.

CLEMENTINA bath scene
Image: Brooklyn Horror Film Festival

After coming home from the hospital and attempting to pick up the pieces of her shattered life (literally and figuratively), Juana is suddenly plagued by constant noises and other strange occurrences. Originally believing it to be her husband, she soon realizes it’s a spirit. This spirit turns out to be Clementina manifested as a young girl, similar to Toni Morrison’s BelovedClementina is a restless, vengeful spirit that beckons Juana to kill Mateo.

What Went Wrong?

Juana is broken in every way. She is an isolated woman that so clearly suffers from Stockholm Syndrome. The scariest thing about this film is the reality of this situation. That’s the only thing scary about it. It isn’t a horror film in the slightest, nor should it have been portrayed as one. Everything outside of its premise is far from scary and when the film does try to scare you it fails (using the stock sound of a kid laughing is a horror movie sin). CLEMENTINA tries to disturb in cheap ways, ways that do nothing for its story. However, the film clearly attempted to go for more of a suspenseful approach. It would have been better to label it as a thriller drama.

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Anxiety would do well for a plot like this, but they didn’t do much with that, either. During these scenes, witnessing Juana’s mental decline and the dangerous scenario escalate, the camera was way too shaky. Sometimes shots would even stay out of focus for far too long. At times, unnecessary scenes that could’ve been replaced with vital ones really hurt the film. The plot is too straightforward, making it predictable and shallow. Scenes that would have shown symbolism or went more in depth with the characters could have made it profound. A lot of scenes didn’t add much and even ruined the tense atmosphere. One example is the uncomfortably long sex scene between Juana and Mateo after he returns. The scene started out incredibly intense. Yet, that sudden anticlimax ruined it.

What Could Have Been

What frustrates me about this film is how great it could have been. I wanted to see something great from a Spanish horror film by a female director, Jimena Monteoliva, especially since all the pieces were there to make it great. It had a great concept and a great atmosphere.

The concept of an abused woman in a paranormal situation can be so amazing in a dark movie. CLEMENTINA portrayed this concept as either being Juana seeing things and completely losing it or an actual haunting. Cecilia Cartasegna did a flawless performance as Juana. She brought the character to life and portrayed her beautifully and authentically. Writer Diego A. Fleisher stated that he wrote the role for Cartasegna and it shows. The film’s score was compelling. The original compositions really brought out the emotional intensity of Juana’s plight and the subtle music during the suspense scenes was enjoyable. The film’s apartment was such a unique setting that complimented the claustrophobic anxiety and mental deterioration of Juana.

The climax of the film was probably the best part. As predictable as it was, it was obviously pleasing to see Juana torture and finally kill Mateo. But, it would’ve been great to see more from it — just like the rest of the film. Throughout the film, you see glimpses of hope for Juana and her attempts to become her healthy self, but it ends with her not seeing Clementina anymore as she seems close to killing herself. That was the driving point for nitpicking this film’s flaws. It had the chance to not only be a great horror (or thriller) but to also be a film with a message that goes with its core. CLEMENTINA left much to be desired but was so close to being something more.

Featured Image via Brooklyn Horror Film Festival

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