Be careful what you wish for, because it may just come true: that’s the fundamental message in José Luis Montesinos’ new chilling horror film.
In Ropes, the horror tropes we’re used to seeing are flipped upside down with the introduction of a disabled character that must fight in a tense battle for survival. What Montesinos captures here is an almost Stephen King-like narrative, mixing the trapped desperation of Gerald’s Game with the sheer bestial terror of Cujo.
Ropes follows Elena (Paula Del Rio), a quadriplegic confined to an electric wheelchair. She is forced by her father (Miguel Angel Jenner) to convalesce in her childhood home that is filled not only with painful memories and the ghosts of her past, but also with a system of ropes to access the draws, doors and lights of the secluded house in the Spanish countryside. Every moment is a struggle for Elena. Involved in an accident that had dire consequences for herself and her sister, she has lost the will to live and resents the world around her, despite her father’s best attempts to adapt to her new normal. However, after a heated exchange with her father, followed swiftly by his sudden death, Elena is left in the house to fend for herself. However, she is far from alone.
The main threat of the film comes in the form of Athos. At first a loyal service dog procured by Elena’s father to assist Elena, he is very well trained (perhaps a little too well) as he can operate the various pulleys littered about the house. However, he soon gives Cujo a run for his money as the most terrifying dog on-screen. Stricken by some strange affliction, he soon turns from a docile good boy into a feral beast that stalks the house, savages anything that comes near him and even manoeuvres his way through the vents to get to his quarry: Elena. As someone who used to be terrified of Alsatians when I was younger, this… was quite the experience, with the perfect amount of jump scares mixed in with the Athos’ ever-present menace to keep me on my toes, wondering when he was about to make his next move.
Montesinos makes a painstaking effort to consider all the possible limitations that Elena will face as a quadriplegic. The keys she can’t quite reach, the small set of steps she can’t go down, the encumbering wheelchair. All of which are tackled thoroughly and considerately. In this respect, there is a great deal of frustration that enhances the film’s scares. While Athos is of course the immediate and most obvious threat, what would ordinarily be a frantic chase is instead replaced with longer sequences as Elena struggles through the house to get away. I found myself moving with her, getting closer to the screen as the tension rose, willing her on to succeed.
Despite a very small cast and contained environment, Ropes takes very little and does a great deal with it. It thrives especially with Paula Del Rio’s performance as she convincingly struggled with the tasks we take for granted in horror movies. Her fear-induced rapport with Athos is nothing short of brilliant as he gives chase, motivating her to do the one thing she had given up on: living.
Ropes will be released digitally on 19 November.
Words by Jack Roberts
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