31 Days of Hell: The Influence (2019) - Reviewed

Sometimes it does not matter if you don’t like subtitles with your movies, because sometimes the most eerie joys come from non-English-speaking countries. In horror, Spain has always been a forerunner of the supernatural sub-genre and La Influencia proves it. After spine-chilling slow burners such as The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage, the power of Spanish spookery is irrefutable. And now Netflix seems to have caught on, thank the blood gods!

The Influence is a 2019 horror film directed by Denis Rovira van Boekholt, a well-regarded representative of the new wave of Spanish ‘Fantastic Film’ genre directors. It is his first feature and if The Influence is anything to go by, he is going to do well.

The story is nothing new, but it is the direction and writing that makes things interesting. Two sisters, Alicia and Sara, are reunited when they have to return to their childhood home to take care of their dying mother, Victoria. With Sara comes her husband and her daughter, Nora. While Victoria is in a coma, her will reveals that the house is bequeathed to Nora, who soon starts acting out of character. But no, it is not a possession film…as such. It is far more raw, blatant and delectably evil.

Although the film sports the usual plots and characters, it is the tropes that surround the story that enhances the horror of it. We soon learn that Victoria is not nice, yes, in that black magic witch kind of way and she certainly does not hide it, even from the obscurity of a coma.

As with most Spanish horror films, The Influence is beautifully filmed with sets that silently urges apprehension and dread. Director van Boekholt knows about the subtle use of intangible co-stars such as sound effects, score and location. The house is dark and menacing, almost as if it represents the atrocities of Alicia and Sara’s horrible childhood at the hands of a vindictive and abusive mother.

The Influence perfectly mixes familial drama and secrets with suspense and pace. It grips your attention while promising ample chills and unabashed witchcraft-laden thrills. There is plenty of supernatural action without holding back, giving this average plot proper excitement.

Emma Su├írez, as the mother witch, is sublime to watch. Her portrayal of the vengeful mother with a penchant for the blackest of magic is disturbing, especially in the flashback scenes. However, even as a comatose hag, one cannot help but give her a wide berth. She looks the part and it is refreshing to have a character that doesn’t try to hide under pretense to make you guess who the bad guy is. It is witchcraft in its purest, retro-styled splendor.

Put on your reading eyes and embark on the nightmarish trip with Sara and her unfortunate family. Walk the corridors of the miserable manor with her and enjoy some good old-fashioned supernatural horror from Spain.

--Tasha Danzig