Two films hardly a trend make, but I do find it curious that in the past few weeks I have watched two recently released Spanish thrillers on Netflix, both of which center on psychotic men exacting revenge because they feel they have been cheated out of what they think they deserve. Neither film really works (they fail for different reasons), but they are interesting depictions of the entitled male ego run so fully amok that they devolve into murder. The first film, The Occupant (Hogar), is about a middle-aged advertising executive who cannot find work and becomes obsessed with the young family that moves into his coveted penthouse apartment, especially the husband and father who he wants to replace. It has an intriguing premise and a great central performance, and its portrait of frustrated, bitter male ego-economically, sexually, culturally-is certain apropos to the times. However, what begins as an intriguing and unsettling character study soon devolves into protracted plot mechanics that strain credulity to the breaking point.
And this brings us to The Paramedic (El practicante), another recent Spanish thriller that is also about an aggrieved man driven to violence because he feels he is not getting what he deserves, and it has exactly the opposite problem as The Occupant. While the plot remains functional and engaging, the central character is such a one-note psycho from the get-go that he sustains very little interest as the film progress; simply put, there is really nowhere for him to go except to spiral deeper into his own amoral recesses. The draw of The Occupant was in wondering how far the protagonist would go to reclaim what he believes he has been denied; in The Paramedic, we have a pretty good sense from the first few scenes that the protagonist would maim and kill to get what he wants, and that is precisely what he does.
The paramedic of the title is ngel (Mario Casas), a handsome, but perpetually glowering young man in his twenties who lives with his long-suffering girlfriend, Vane (Dborah Franois). In the opening scene we see ngel and the ambulance driver with whom he works, Ricardo (Guillermo Pfening), arrive on the scene of an overturned car, where the driver is dead and the passenger is wailing in agony. ngel does his due diligence, but then he reaches into the smashed vehicle and takes a pair of sunglasses, which we later see him adding to a morbid collection of items he has stolen from the various medical emergencies to which he has been called. The creepiness of this extraprofessional hobby is enhanced by his jealous, possessive, abusive, and manipulative nature, as he treats the seemingly good-hearted Vane like an object to be maintained and controlled and questions her everytime she walks out the door. He eventually installs tracking software and spyware on her phone so he can secretly keep tabs on her every move.
This possessive tendency is increased substantially when ngel's ambulance is hit broadside during a call and he is left paralyzed from the waist down, a tragic turn of events that leaves him angry and embittered, without a job, and with even more time on his hands to brood and obsess over Vane, who leaves him when she discovers just how far he has gone in trying to control her. So, what is a wheelchair-bound psycho to do but plot to reclaim his girlfriend months later by kidnapping her and holding her hostage in some kind of desperate, deranged bid to win her back?
And that is pretty much it. There is some degree of suspense in terms of what ngel will be able to get away with and how he will manage to inflict so much pain and misery, but too much of the film feels like fait accompli from the beginning. Screenwriters David Desola and Hctor Hernndez Vicens, working from a story by director Carles Torras, devise some intriguing scenarios and come up with some relatively clever gambits, but it is never enough to overcome the fundamentally trite nature of ngel's psychosis. Mario Casas, the star of numerous Spanish films and television series, broods like a champ and gives us lots of sub-Kubrickian glowering in his bid to make ngel intensely dislikeable and scary, which certainly heightens our anguish at seeing him succeed for so long. Yet, when the film is over, you can't escape the feeling that it was largely an exercise in style with very little substance to sustain it.
Copyright © 2020 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Netflix
Overall Rating: (2.5)
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