Director: Alberto Rodríguez Starring: Javier Gutiérrez, Raúl Arévalo Spain 2014. 104 mins. Spanish with English subtitles.
Seconds into Marshland’s opening credits you can understand why critics and audiences alike have compared Alberto Rodríguez’s crime noir with Cary Fukunaga’s True Detective. Cinematographer Álex Catalán’s beautiful aerial shots of the Guadalquivir marshes feel more like gruesome macro shots of the human brain, or of ruptured capillaries, as they twist, turn and bleed into the Atlantic – reminiscent of the moody terrain shots of Fukunaga’s acclaimed first series. But what follows is so much more.
Two detectives, experienced and bitter Juan (Gutiérrez) and his idealistic partner Pedro (Arévalo), are tasked to investigate the disappearance of two girls, only to be drawn into a hunt for a serial killer in a backwater town steeped in corruption. The gripping unravelling of events goes beyond the standard procedural thriller and provides a haunting exploration into the rot, and rut, of 1980s post-Franco Spain as it strove towards a more democratic future.
While it is a cliché to describe them as such, the marshlands themselves are another character in Rodríguez’s feature. The landscape is as obliging as it is unforgiving: night-time car chases end in frustratingly boggy dead ends, dry open expanses provide no hiding places for would-be escapees, and biblical weather leads to a tense, slow-burn finale. This is a place that time forgot, at odds with itself – a mangled, ugly mess for the detectives to navigate their way out of.
Aside from True Detective, Marshland shares much DNA with the recent spate of Nordic noir thrillers that have revitalised a well-trodden genre. It is inevitable that Hollywood’s gaze will fall on Marshland’s Spanish success and suggest an English-language remake akin to that of Juan José Campanella’s The Secret In Their Eyes.
In Rodríguez Spain has produced another exciting filmmaker, who proves deft at steering the audience through plot twists and turns while also injecting elements of unsettling surrealism that verge on the Lynchian. But it is Catalán’s cinematography that pulls the film together, managing to succinctly capture Rodriguez’s tale in beautifully simple yet layered imagery that makes it one of the best-looking films of the year.
Marshland took its native Spain by storm with its 2014 release, going head-to-head with David Fincher’s Gone Girl at the box office (and winning), as well as inspiring Zara’s autumn/winter 2015 campaign for men. Unsurprisingly, that success also translated into a slew of Goya Awards.
This film does for Spain what The Killing did for Denmark. It’s a stunning, dark and gripping thriller that doesn’t pull its punches.
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