Paranormal Xperience 3D 2011
Directed by: Sergi Vizcaino
Starring: Amaia Salamanca, Alba Ribas, Miguel Ángel Jenner
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Like most slasher fans, I’d be a liar if I said that I hadn’t considered making my own entry to the sub-genre. On the drive from Aracena, my family’s pueblo, to Huelva, there’s an old quarry that is one of the most historical sites in Southern Andalucía. Nowadays, Parque Minero Riotinto has a museum that displays artifacts from its 3,000 years as Europe’s biggest mine. The story began with the Phoenicians hunting for copper, and as the tides of time swept over the Iberian peninsular, the Romans took over when they discovered large stashes of silver. In the late nineteen-hundreds, an entrepreneur from London purchased the site and it became one of the first British settlements in Spain. Even if the visitors loved the hot weather and spacious deserts, they missed a few of their own novel customs and decided to introduce them to their gracious hosts. Before long, a Golf course was opened and a soccer team by the name of, Recreativo de Huelva. None of those early settlers could have predicted that they had laid the foundations for the creation of the league that would give us the largest match in the world, ‘El Clásico’ between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
With its dilapidated tunnels and isolated landscape, I often felt that the Riotinto mine would be the perfect location to shoot a slasher movie. A lack of time and funds however meant that I never took my daydreams further than the initial stage. When I learned about the production of XP3D, I hoped that the crew would make the most of the concept and I can’t deny a slight satisfaction in thinking that an idea of mine was actually being developed for the big screen. Albeit, by someone else and without my involvement :((
A group of medical students are given the task of hunting out any truth to the rumours that surround an abandoned mine. Years earlier, a professor ruthlessly butchered some locals, but his corpse was never discovered and legend dictates that he still roams the grounds. Due to a lack of transport, Ángela invites her younger sister, Diana, who owns a van to join them on their expedition. Their relationship broke down after their father committed suicide and since then, they have never seen eye to eye. Almost as soon as the group arrive, they sense an ominous presence and are left having to fight to survive…
I’m from Andalucía and the fact that so much of Spain’s globally recognised culture comes from my community (Siesta, Toros, Flamenco, Tapas etc) makes me extremely proud. Even Cristóbal Colón set sale on his groundbreaking journey of discovery from the ports of Huelva. When it comes to slashers though, I have to take my hat off to Cataluña, because their track record of Los Inocentes and Los Ojos de Julia speaks for itself. XP3D is another Catalan entry and I was keen to see if it could be the Luis Suarez to sit alongside Messi and Neymar in their slasheristic attack.
On a relatively light budget of €3,200,000, the film looks as good as any of the entries that have thrown untold-millions behind their developments. Shooting in contained underground environments is always a recipe for a bad lighting rig, but Rosa Ros’ sets are extensive in their detail and perfectly displayed. Whilst It takes around forty minutes for our first killing, Paranormal Xperience sustains interest due to an exquisitely mastered intro, which I won’t spoil for you. I will say though that it is a masterclass of tension in a confined environment. From then on, we spend time with a group of youngsters that may not be extensively developed, but they are at least likeable and given interesting tweaks. It was a risk to fill the cast with actors that hadn’t even really made a mark in TV shows, but the dramatics are surprisingly solid, especially from Maxi Iglesias and Amaia Salamanca as our beautiful heroine. Although they prove that they weren’t only cast for their physical appearance, the camera does linger longingly on Úrsula Corberó’s rear-end almost as many times as it does her face. I guess though, a culo like hers deserves to be appreciated 😉
Director Sergi Vizcaino shoots the action with a visible gloss and it gives the film an adroit realism. I recall the advertising campaign, which created the impression that we were in for an out and out gore extravaganza. We do get an extremely gruesome CGI head-rip and a wince worthy moment where a rock hammer is removed from a victim’s eye socket (nasty), but not everything was shown on-screen. I did like the look of the antagonist, who sports a ‘Phantom of the Opera’ style half-mask, but his taunts are neither threatening nor witty, which leaves them lingering without substance.
Even if Spanish cinema is renowned for its unique character driven narratives, I’m the first to confess that we do often make films that are inspired by Hollywood trends and conventions. Following the success of Saw and My Bloody Valentine in 3D, XP attempts to follow In their footsteps with the same visual gimmick. In doing so, I feel that the film sacrificed some of its potential. It’s almost as if they were halfway through writing the script when a producer came up with the idea of 3D and then everything else fell by the wayside. All the realistic dialogue and depth that had been visible from the launch suddenly evaporates and it felt like someone gave acupuncture to the second-half of the screenplay. The characters clearly have mobile phones (I won’t mention the most obvious Sony product placement ever) and use them to contact each other whilst at the mine. When the killings finally start, not one of the panicking victims even mentions calling for assistance, which looked like a bizarre thing for the author to overlook. (?) In fairness, the invention of cellular technology was the biggest challenge that the slasher genre’s basic structure has ever faced. It can be overcome though with a simple line of goofy but expository dialogue like, ‘My battery’s dead’ or, ‘I have no signal’ (I mean, they were in an underground mine). Штольня even went as far as to give us a scene that explained the lack of a call for help; – and whilst that’s not always necessary, anything looks better than absolutely nada.
Another issue is that the film overestimates the intelligence of its gimmick. I won’t tell you how so as not to ruin any potential surprise, but it reminded me of an excited present bearer that wants to tell you what your gift is before you shake the box or rip the wrapping paper. There’s nothing wrong with a twist, because many slasher movies are built upon them, but it was easy to predict the outcome here. It could also be said that the storyline doesn’t really know what it wants to be. We launch along a pathway that makes us believe that we’re watching a film about a haunting, which makes sense considering the ‘paranormal’ title. Then the masked killer turns up and we slot into the traditional template without a second look. I mean, they do mention a supernatural-ish aspect later, but it felt like it’d been bolted on at the last minute when someone on set said to the screenwriter, “Yo dude, what about the ghostly stuff?”. The response was probably something along the lines of, “Oh yeah… Damn it, I forgot about that…” I don’t know; it just looks like the script was completed in a week and based on a combination of ideas that were cobbled together in haste. If you compare XP with Los Inocentes, it’s easy to see that one had a logical plan THAT WORKED and the other plays like a skateboard rolling down a pebbled hill.
It’s a strange analogy, but you can’t prepare a good curry by simply throwing in more spice. It’s about the finer details; the timing, the seasonings, the blend of the right herbs. XP borders on being an exquisite main course, but the fact that it throws too much into the Tandoori oven, leaves it a bit too overdone to be truly succulent. Not even a helping of gore-soaked poppadoms could perfect the taste. So with that I’m off to the kitchen…