Tu hijo (Miguel Ángel Vivas, 2018) – All Foreign Rights (outside Spain) – Revenge Thriller
The plot of Your Son (Tu hijo) sounds like a boilerplate “geriaction” revenge movie that could have starred Liam Neeson or, more appropriately to Netflix, Frank Grillo. A middle-aged doctor, Jaime (José Coronado) is driven to violent revenge after his son is beaten into a coma by a group of young men outside a nightclub. To get this revenge, Jaime takes matters into his own hands, investigating his son’s best friend (Pedro, played by Marco Medina), his ex-girlfriend Andrea (Ester Expósito) and her new boyfriend as well.
But Your Son turns out not be a typical action/revenge film at all. Instead Your Son takes this by now familiar plot and its stock characters and pushes them into pitch black territory when Jaime begins to investigate the circumstances surrounding the attack. Yes, as per genre rules, there are violent acts of revenge in Your Son, but the tone is bleak and menacing throughout, culminating is a final twist that calls into question everything that has come before and which forces the viewer to take an even grimmer view of everyone involved.
Contemporary Spanish cinema is replete with dark thrillers, but unlike Dios nos perdone or No habrá paz para los malvados to cite two recent examples, Your Son manages to take us into the dark places that Jaime visits physically and spiritually without the unpleasantness rub off on the viewer. Instead, the film gives us an approximation of Taxi Driver, with a visual style that allows us to follow Jaime on his journey without feeling sickened by the bleak contents of that world. (The night time cinematography is really something to see.) This is a demonstration of the tonal mastery achieved by director and co-writer Miguel Ángel Vivas, as well as a testimony to the skillful performance from Coronado as Jaime.
The film’s final twist cannot be spoiled under any circumstances, yet its execution and impact should be discussed as I personally found these to be problematic from the point of view of craftsmanship. Put simply, the final twist is for me too radical of a shift in tone and character, one for which there was not enough foreshadowing to justify it. Once it happens the film then also crosses a tonal line and becomes one more concerned with madness.
Even if I didn’t personally enjoy this latter aspect of the twist and the ending, it is at least just a matter of taste. On its own terms, this is something of a genius ending as it undercuts a key aspect of the action/revenge drama, which is the unquestioned righteousness of the main character and their mission. I really can’t say more than that without spoiling things, but suffice it to say that however you feel about this twist, it is still a doozy of a shock.
The film’s script has some other flaws, including holes in the script you could drive Jaime’s luxury car through and a wife in Carmen (Ana Wagener) whose only functions seem to be to cry and to nag or rebuke Jaime. The film is strong enough to overcome these problems, however, and is throughout an engrossing and evocative thriller and morality tale.
In commercial terms, Netflix was an early investor in the film in much the same way that the company invested in Sunday’s Illness, meaning that the company bought in before principal photography even while the film was released in theaters in Spain. This contribution seems to have been critical as Vivas has gone so far as to say on social media that the film wouldn’t have existed without Netflix. The film opened Spain’s prestigious SEMINICI festival in 2018 and went on to a brief and undistinguished theatrical run in Spain, grossing a total of just less than €400,000. The film is now seeming to have gotten a second lease on life following its Netflix release as observers noted an upsurge in social media mentions of the film after it was uploaded.
The acquisition and release of Tu hijo demonstrates the interconnections between Netflix’s film and TV strategies when it comes to Spanish production as can be seen in the overlap between creative personnel:
José Coronado stars in this film as well as Vivir sin permiso AKA Unauthorized Living, a series that was branded as a Netflix original outside of Spain and which was released in February of 2019 on the service, just weeks before Tu hijo.
Director Miguel Ángel Vivas directed episodes of Vivir sin permiso. He also directed episodes of Mar de Plastico and La Casa de Papel (AKA Money Heist), both of which have been acquired by Netflix for global release, the latter being branded as a Netflix original series in most markets.
Pol Monen also appears in Vivir sin permiso as well as ¿Á quién te llevarías a una isla desierta? a forthcoming fully original Netflix Spanish film.
Ester Expósito stars in Élite, the widely popular Spanish Netflix original series. She also appeared in Cuando los ángeles duermen AKA When the Angels Sleep, another film which Netflix acquired for international markets and branded as a Netflix original.
Asia Ortega also appears in When the Angels Sleep.
Luis Bermejo appears in a number of Spanish “original” works including Money Heist as well as the films Fe de Etarras AKA Bomb Scared, Ánimas and La tribu AKA The Tribe. He will also be appearing in Alta Mar AKA High Seas, a Netflix original series that will be released in 2019.
Ana Wagener also appears in Durante la tormenta AKA Mirage which will be released as a Netflix original in international markets in mid-March 2019.
Vicente Romero also appears in the series Tiempos de la Guerra AKA Morocco: Love in the Times of War and the film La sombra de la ley AKA Gun City. Both works were branded as Netflix originals outside of Spain.
Producers Apache Films also make the Netflix original series Paquita Salas and have made a number of films that have been picked up for global distribution, one of which will be branded as an “original” film: the forthcoming (and brilliant) Quién te cantará. Holy Camp and Veronica are available in most countries but are not branded as originals.
Conspicuous Product Placement
Even though the film was shot partially in Madrid, the city of Seville is featured prominently in terms of visual imagery and touristic clichés. A telling scene in this regard is when Jaime goes to interrogate Pedro, who just so happens to be marching in a religious procession, a very clichéd event in the context of representations of the city. Scenes like this one may or may not be related to the Seville tourism organizations thanked in the film’s credits, a pairing of financing and product placement that was also seen in the case of The Motive/El autor.
Notable Corporate Alliances
Spanish sales agents Film Factory sold the international rights to this film to Netflix, along with those for The Warning and The Tribe, which were branded as originals, as well as those for a bevvy of licensed titles such as Veronica, The Giant and many others.
No exact figures are available yet, but the film did receive a subvention from Spain’s federal film agency the ICAA.