After "The Others" and "Orphanage," Hollywood all but ceded the genre of credible, chilling ghost stories to Spain. And deservedly so.
To cast its spell, a ghostly tale must take its time, build from recognizable reality to some moment when the incredible becomes credible. Spanish cinema still gets this.
"The Body" is a new entre from Espana, a creepy thriller about a murder, a missing corpse and the investigation that corpse seems hell-bent on helping solve.
Something happened in the city morgue, a striking building tucked away in some woods outside of town. Whatever the night watchman saw scared him to death. He ran off and got hit by a car, so he's not telling his tale.
What detective Jaime Pena ( Jose Coronado) and his team do know is that there's a body missing. It's as if wealthy pharmaceutical baroness Mayka Villaverde ( Belen Rueda of "The Orphanage") got up and walked away.
The coroner wants to rule that very possibility out (catalepsy, it's called -- a seizure that simulates). But when she reminds Jaime that "every death is a homicide until proven otherwise," they dig into who might have stolen the body, and why. That means dragging Mayka's young, handsome chemist husband Alex ( Hugo Silva) away from his lover ( Aura Garrido) and in for questioning.
Of course he did it. But he didn't steal the body. And as clues seem to hurl themselves at him and at the cops, he becomes convinced that there's a corpse out there out for revenge.
Co-writer and director Oriol Paulo (he wrote "Julia's Eyes") takes his time unraveling this mystery, using vivid, brittle flashbacks to show the domineering relationship Alex lived through with Mayka and the reasons he put up with it. We see Detective Pena's complicated past, too. We watch interrogations, which range from "just a few questions" to full on "You're a suspect" in their intensity.
And clue after clue pops up -- body bag tags, a missing cell phone, a vial of toxin, forcing Alex to tear up a revealing printed invitation and flush it down the toilet, only to have the toilet refuse to flush.
I like the way Coronado's cop compulsively clicks his pen, the moody lighting (most of this takes place over one long night) and the sparing way the frights are doled out.
The ending is spoiled somewhat by a need for neatness. But "The Body" is a ghostly thriller that builds its chills at just the right pace. When the hairs rise on the back of your neck in this one, you know the filmmakers have earned it.
Cast: Jose Coronado, Hugo Silva, Belen Rueda, Aura Garrido
Directed by Oriol Paulo, written by Oriol Paulo and Lara Sendim. A Sony release
Running time: 1:48
MPAA rating: Unrated, with sex, some violence, frightening images
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Photo/Video credit: Antena 3 Films/Outsider Pictures