The Old Shall Inherit the Earth in ‘The Elderly’
Fantastic Fest @ Home @ celluloid consommé
The Elderly, dir. Fernando González Goméz & Raúl Cerezo
Raúl Cerezo & Fernando Goméz’s newest collaboration The Elderly achieves an odd type of alienation. In Madrid various elderly people have started to act strangely, and Mario’s mother has just committed suicide rendering her husband Manuel effectively alone. The family tries its hardest to stick together but Manuel rebels, acting out against Lena, Mario’s second wife and his daughter Naia’s stepmother. But as Mario and his family arrive at a loss as to what to do, we see this type of behavior bubbling up around the entire geriatric population of the city. To make some things worse, there is also a steadily climbing heatwave and an approaching electrical storm. Other than the sense that the storm is creeping closer and closer to the city, the heat rarely factors into the events, which makes at least that bit feel like a tacked-on ticking clock that doesn’t really add to the tension.
The most engaging parts of The Elderly don’t make themselves known until a little too late. The family drama takes on a thread that operates in a vacuum relatively opposite to the events happening in their outside world that, when the shit hits the fan, they get completely blindsided by it. As do we, however whatever build up was intended for the reveal we get doesn’t feel sufficient. It’s not something completely out of left field, but…actually you know what? It kind of is. Before that, Manuel has been hinting to his family that his wife is still among them, but since they cannot see her they take his behavior as grief, and that others are watching them.
Zorion Eguileor’s performance is easily the best part about this film. You can feel the neglect from Manuel’s family through his facial expressions and his blanketed paranoia by the un-nameable thing that’s watching them. Yet we’re still in the dark as to what he really wants from his family, until his declaration to kill them all. From here Elderly has a much stronger focus, the brewing electrical storm reaching an apex during the climax and everything shortly leading up to that taking on a much more sinister approach.
It’s a bizarrely original tale that takes on the formula of something that you’d find A24 publishing, but like most efforts of late, finds something lacking underneath. A thread of tender melancholy briefly glimmers during some sequences but the focus on endgame in plot buries this avenue before it can flourish or color the struggle of Manuel’s family to bring everything together before or up to the near-ridiculous finale. It’s not something that cheapens what came before but a turn towards a genre subversive that surprises a little more than adds to what it wants to say. Manuel has felt nigh invisible after the passing of his wife, yet in these recent days is afraid of eyes constantly spying on him and his family. Some of these mirrored themes don’t get proper development but still have a solid foundation if it were ever to explore those further.
In looking at the film as a whole, it’s a mix of family drama, horror and a dollop of science fiction that is spread too thin to satisfy those who have come to see those things. There’s nothing disappointing about the path it takes, but there might be some disappointment in the opportunities it misses. Yet Goméz and Cerezo are on the brink of something. There’s a feeling that they have yet to deliver that special film, so I’m confident that as long as they stick together a story will come along that holds the key to unearthing their full potential.