32 Malasaña Street
by Hope Madden
What is it about haunted houses that always sucker in big families? We saw it in The Conjuring and The Amityville Horror before it. And now another big old clan is about to regret that bargain dream house over at 32 Malasaña Street.
Albert Pintó’s nightmare follows the Olmedos, who take their two teenagers, their 5-year-old, an aging grandfather, and their shame to Madrid, leaving the country and their old lives behind. But haunted houses smell shame and secrets, don’t the Olmedos know that?
Pintó creates a dreadful, dreamy quality to the haunting, every shot’s framing and color, light and shadow taking on a painterly quality. He conjures a mood, a vintage era where hope and freedom bumped up against tradition and oppression.
The film is set in 1976, and like those other films of dream homes gone wrong, Malasaña creates concrete tension. The first response to any haunting is to just get the F out, but where are you supposed to take three kids and an elderly father? Where’s abuela supposed to plug in his C-Pap? The “down to our last penny and nowhere to go” vibe feels authentic under these circumstances.
But Pintó seems out to do more with the size of the family than simply convince you that thre’s nowhere to go. 17-year-old Amparo (Begoña Vargas) dreams of becoming a flight attendant, of flying up and away from this life, but the house itself is the metaphor for the family as a trap.
Faith and culture beget big families and poverty, and old-fashioned thinking creates monsters.
Where Pintó takes the metaphor is less inspired than it might be. Troublingly, the filmmaker’s throwback vibe retains that old horror trope of the physically disabled character as conduit to the supernatural, and enlightened lip service can’t excuse the way the film falls back on cliches of the monstrous “other.”
32 Malasaña Street sets complicated characters in motion within a familiar world. It just doesn’t use them to tell us anything new.