The Elderly


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Elderly
"Cerezo and Gómez remind us that we are living through some of the strangest days our world has known right now." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

Ever since George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, there has been an obligatory conversation in films about mass abberations in human behaviour – sometimes direct and sometimes implicit – concerning their cause and the wider state of the world. This festival success from Raúl Cerezo and Fernando González Gómez begins by stating the ambient temperature, and we watch it tick up chapter by chapter, the highest on record. Towards the end there is a remark made by one of the older characters – perhaps fanciful, but the closest thing we get to an explanation of his perspective on what will happen later – which implies that all the awful things we witness might be a solution, of sorts, to a larger problem. It’s the darkest element of the film, and it lingers even after the other explanations offered by the final shot, raising unspeakable questions which the rising heat in the real world make all too pertinent.

The narrative opens with a smaller scale catastrophe. Rosa (Ángela López Gamonal), driven to distraction by the heat and perhaps by something else, puts on her best dress, styles her hair, makes herself look elegant and then jumps off her third floor balcony. It’s an act which shatters her family: son Mario (Gustavo Salmerón), daughter-in-law Lena (Irene Anula) and doting granddaughter Naia (Paula Gallego). The only person who doesn’t seem to be affected is Rosa’s husband Manuel (Zorion Eguileor), although the doctor suggests that his distance and increasingly odd behaviour may be the result of an aggressive form of dementia triggered by shock.

Worried that he can no longer cope on his own, Mario moves him into the family’s apartment, immediately exacerbating tensions between Lena and Naia. The latter, who has never fully accepted her stepmother, sees Manuel as a natural ally and as somebody to hide behind when she’s disinclined to cooperate. She would rather be out on the streets with moped-riding boyfriend Jota (Juan Acedo). A fresh-faced, sensitive girl, she feels a deep horror of old age which inspires her to help older people, and she also has a curious ability to relate to them, even when they tell her the same story multiple times, even when they talk about hearing voices.

Heat, in Spain, sooner or later means storms. A slow building heatwave is often accompanied by clouds thick with red dust from the Sahara. Images of roiling red and brown clouds shot through with lightning, looking more Jovian than Earthly, linger in the background of this film, gradually eclipsing a clear sky. They too recall the Romero conversation, reaching beyond the bounds of conventional horror work to grapple with the existential. The implication has always been that people en masse become unpredictable in strange days, and Cerezo and Gómez remind us that we are living through some of the strangest days our world has known right now.

Why did Rosa do what she did? This is what everybody keeps asking, as if there were not ample reason, as if the heat itself might not be enough. In context, violence is simple, straightforward. It’s all the efforts to build and rebuild relationships, to keep on pretending that everything will be okay, which fly in the face of what is natural. Old people have to die to make way for the likes of her, Naia is told, not unkindly. But they might not be the only ones.

Switching perspectives between their three main characters and occasionally permitting us glimpses of other goings-on, the directors allow us to piece together developments which make no sense to those caught up in them, ratcheting up the tension in line with the increasing heat. The horror which will emerge at the film’s climax is balanced by sharp observations about the day to day horror of how elderly people are often treated, from being deprived of their liberty to being beaten by those supposed to care for them. Once again, its dark portents extend beyond its characters and beyond the screen. Something is coming for us all.

Reviewed on: 13 Oct 2023
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The Elderly packshot
An octogenarian, who enters into a state of dementia after the sudden suicide of his wife, sparks a series of paranormal events that will put his family's lives at risk.

Director: Raúl Cerezo, Fernando González Gómez

Writer: Raúl Cerezo, Rubén Sánchez Trigos, Javier Trigales

Starring: Irene Anula, Zorion Eguileor, Josele Román, Gustavo Salmerón, Paula Gallego

Year: 2022

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Spain

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