Marshland (La isla mínima) (2014)

Starring: Javier Gutiérrez, Raúl Arévalo, Jesús Castro, Salva Reina, Ana Tomeno, Alberto González

Directed by: Alberto Rodriguez

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) and Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) in MarshlandBilled as Spain's answer to True Detective, gritty thriller Marshland takes the classic trope of two mismatched cops pitted against a horrible killer and runs with it.

The year is 1980, and Spain is struggling to come to terms with its new found democratic status. Chalk and cheese homicide detectives Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) and Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) have been dispatched to Isla Mínima, an isolated, poverty-stricken area of marshland in southern Spain, which, in a series of breathtaking aerial shots at the beginning of the film, we see snaking towards the sea like the coils of a vast, impenetrable brain. Like True Detective's Deep South, this is an area that operates by its own rules, and where outsiders can quickly lose their footing, both metaphorically and literally.

The pair quickly clash: old school bad cop Juan, an alcoholic ex-Franco supporter with a grim past, has difficulties relinquishing his robust methods of questioning, while young rising star Pedro takes pride in a more modern approach.

Initially charged with investigating the disappearance of two local teenage girls, Pedro and Juan soon discover that there is more to the case than meets the eye, and that this latest missing persons case is just the tip of a dangerous iceberg. And what with taciturn locals, uncooperative senior officials and a car that's really not up to the rough roads of the island, they have their work cut out to get to the bottom of the mystery.

The weather's lovely in Marshlands...True, there's nothing particularly original in the plot of Marshland, but stunning cinematography, excellent performances from the two leads that allow us to see past the more stereotypical aspects of their characters to the conflicted souls beyond, and a genuinely exciting climax, set in a cataclysmic downpour that seems to see the gods weep for the mess men make of the world, combine to make the film more gripping and original than you might think. And then there's the historical setting: not only is the period styling a joy, but the disturbing legacy of Francoist Spain, its brutality and inherent misogyny, hang over the film like a inescapable shadow (although bear in mind that my knowledge of the era stems almost entirely from the films of Guillermo del Toro). Dark, dangerous stuff, this is a seriously superior thriller – and well worth tracking down.

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