Errementari – ****

Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Paul Urkijo Alijo, 2018)

All Foreign Rights – Horror/Fantasy – Reported Budget: €2.9 million

 

Set in the mid-19th century in a small rural village in Spain’s Basque Country, Errementari tells the story of a little girl (Usue, played by Uma Bracaglia) who wanders into the home of the village’s eccentric – to put it mildly – local blacksmith Patxi (Kandido Uranga). There she comes to discover that the blacksmith has imprisoned a demon that he tortures periodically to punish him for supposedly having caused all of his personal misfortunes. Meanwhile, the townsfolk, led by a visiting government official, become convinced that Patxi is hoarding a lost treasure of gold and decide to break into his home. Hell literally breaks loose after that.

Errementari is one of the most remarkable films to be found under Netflix’s horror genre banner. It is very scary in parts and will definitely scratch that itch if you are looking for frights and don’t mind subtitles. The many scary moments include a sequence with Patxi fighting off his unwanted guests with a mask on that is about 100 times scarier/better than the masked would-be horror scenes in Hold the Dark. Another very memorable scene involves a literal descent into hell, complete with disturbingly misshaped demons guiding and torturing the damned. This is really a remarkable scene, not just because it may give you nightmares. The special effects here are of a very high standard and likely reflect the impact that producer Alex de la Iglesia had on the film (he is a horror/fantasy director of great repute in Spain; he was also born in the Basque Country). Among the many horrific images to be found here is a demon with a penis growing out of his stomach and another whose face is literally on his ass (surely this one is a meme/gif waiting to happen as I can imagine a million captions about bosses or American presidents being superimposed on this image).

Drawing on the folk tales of the Basque Country, co-writer/director Paul Urkijo Alijo combines this gothic imagery with the poignant story of Usue who was orphaned under circumstances I won’t spoil here. Uma Bracaglia gives a great performance as the headstrong but also vulnerable little girl. The rest of the cast is equally convincing in their various roles, but Uranga deserves a special mention for his performance as Patxi which moves from the wildly bestial version of the character at the opening of the film to something approaching the grandfather from Heidi by the end. Eneko Sagardoy achieves a similar feat playing the misfit demon Sartael through heavy makeup.

Errementari is a truly unique experience that I highly recommend, but I can see that it wouldn’t be for everyone. It is a visual feast with production values that are rare for Spanish cinema generally, never mind Basque-language cinema, a language which is spoken by a small minority within Spain. It is by turns moving, frightening and exciting and equal measure. But at the same time it is perhaps too good at evoking both its isolated rural setting and the dark hellish world its characters traverse for audience comfort. Some might be put off by the almost anthropological detail of rural Basque life in the 19th century found in the film and many will definitely be nauseated by the trip to Hell that takes up the last quarter of the film. If you can get past these elements, this is a great film.

Errementari also makes for another chapter in Netflix’s interesting relationship with Basque cinema. It is the service’s first “original” film made in the language, but one of its full Spanish originals, Fe de Etarras, also dealt with contemporary Basque separatism. Additionally in many countries you can also find The Giant/Handia on the service as a licensed film. The Giant is also a masterpiece, but also features more accessible content for mainstream audiences than Errementari. The algorithm may direct you to these other Basque-themed films and you should watch both.

 

Netflix Tendencies

Underrepresented Groups

Basque cinema is in the midst of an interesting creative renaissance, with this film, Handia and another masterpiece called Loreak (not currently available on Netflix as far as I know) but it is still difficult to get even Spanish audiences to see the films at the cinema. Errementari was released theatrically in Spain but only got seen by about 7,000 people its first week before falling out of the top 25.

It is worth pointing out that in the case of Errementari, the film was the first feature written and directed by its Basque co-writer/director Urkijo Alijo meaning that a significant talent has been given a big opportunity in this case.

The streaming service is thus helping to finance some of these films, albeit indirectly, and to make them globally available while advancing the careers of talented film-makers from an underrepresented region. But like many of its non-American works, they are not doing much to promote this film internationally or in its home country. Still, if you know what you’re looking for, Netflix might be the best venue to witness this exciting moment in Basque cinema.

Netflix Stars

Itziar Otuño of La Casa de Papel (Detective Raquel) plays a small role here. Alex de la Iglesia, one of Errementari’s producers is an auteur genre director and his works are licensed by Netflix in many countries.

Notable Corporate Alliances

Filmax helped finance this film as well as selling it internationally and distributing it in Spain. It cut a similar deal to that of Errementari with The Motive which is also branded as a Netflix original film in many territories.

Public Money

No data is currently available on exact totals, but the film received subventions from a variety of national and regional sources, including Spain’s ICAA and a number of Basque funds. The level of support must have been significant in this case to reach the relatively large budget the film had.

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