La Casa Entre Los Cactus is one of the 22 films showing over the course of HOME cinema’s annual ¡Viva! Film Festival. The 2022 psychological thriller is the feature film debut from Spanish director Carlotta González-Adrio, and its UK cinema premiere at HOME was followed by a live Q&A session with the director.
Adapted from Paul Pen’s 2017 novel of the same name, the film centres around a seemingly perfect family; parents Emilio and Rosa live a rural life deep in the forested landscape of Gran Canaria with their four daughters. The family lives completely secluded from the outside world, until a mysterious stranger turns up unannounced. Upon the arrival of this outsider, dark secrets begin to unravel themselves, with the family home quickly turning from paradise to prison.
The film wastes no time in keeping the audience on its toes, with the first twist arriving within the opening minutes. From then on, González-Adrio never quite lets us relax – unsettling shots of the secluded surroundings and an eerie, pensive soundtrack immediately indicate that all is not as it seems.
The central performances from Ariadna Gil (Pan’s Labyrinth), as well as Spanish TV actors Ricardo Gómez and Daniel Grao manage to give their characters depth and complexity, while always retaining a sense of ambiguity and distance. It is, however, the four sisters that are the heart of the story, with the film relying on the capabilities of these mostly first-time actors.
Despite this, the young stars don’t buckle under the pressure, providing an organic, intimate look at sisterhood, girlhood, and loss of innocence. The film unfolds through their eyes, as they realise that everything they thought they knew about themselves, and their lives, slowly disintegrates.
The film’s strongest aspect is undoubtedly its cinematography, with renowned Spanish cinematographer Kiko de la Rica proving his ability to master both sweeping vistas of the Canadian landscape, as well as subtly intimate moments in the family home.
Unfortunately, as the film develops, some plotholes begin to emerge, with key character motivations and backstories being glazed over. Maybe this adds to the overall sense of mystery and ambivalence, but it’s hard not to leave this film without some itching questions that are left unanswered. The film’s momentum propels the audience towards a big reveal or explanation, but never quite reaches it.
In the Q&A that followed the screening, González-Adrio mentioned some difficulties in translating the story from novel to film, which could be where these unresolved plot points can be traced back to. The author of the source material, Paul Pen, was initially a screenwriter on the project, but ended up leaving due to creative differences.
This left Gonález-Adrio as the primary screenwriter as well as the director, a big jump from her previous project (the 2019 short film Summer Solstice). Despite the logistical and creative challenges she described, La Casa Entre Los Cactus still proves itself to be an intriguing, captivating thriller, and promises González-Adrio to be an exciting new force in Spanish cinema.
¡Viva! 2023 runs from Friday 10th to Thursday March 30 at HOME. The full festival calendar and tickets are available here.
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