Whether we like to admit it or not, cinephiles usher in an invisible set of expectations that we whip out when watching a new film. Years of being exposed to an endless catalogue of films of all genres have trained us to distinguish quality, predict the clichés, recognize homages and equally point out the frauds and copycats with vigorous justice. In particular though, horror and genre films embody those expectations more prominently...
...To give a somewhat crude and pedestrian example, when watching a slasher film, identifying the “final girl” is an easy, unconscious task. In a creature feature B movie, we know what we’re in for. There’s going to be blood and gore, stereotypical archetypal characters, maybe some nudity and if we’re lucky, some good creature effects. I say this not as a slight but as a simple contrast to what I’m about to discuss. Sometimes, a film comes along that yanks away the set of expectations and replaces it with a truly refreshingly unconventional film. In the Quarry, written and directed by Bernardo and Rafael Antonaccio, made its way from Uruguay to The Brooklyn Film Festival for its American premier. For better or worse, this Spanish slow burn thriller challenges our expectations.
The film follows one day’s events of a small group of twenty-something’s taking time out to relax at a local water quarry. Excited to reconnect with her childhood friends, the beautiful Alicia, played by Paula Silva, tries to induct her boyfriend, Bruno, played by Augusto Gordillo into the friendship fold. Not to give anything away, but there isn’t exactly instant chemistry between Bruno and Alicia’s two friends, Tola and Tincho. Secrets are being kept, personalities clash and tension builds like water slowly boiling to a violent eruption. Saying anything else would be giving away too much, as Quarry takes place in one secluded location populated only by our four diverse characters. It’s not unlike a single set theater production. The film uses its setting as a threat, looming over the characters, reminding them that they cannot escape each other. At least, not without a struggle.
While watching this film, I quickly realized, (and appreciated) the sheer lack of predictability. About thirty minutes into my viewing, I couldn’t put my finger on what kind of story this was trying to tell. It certainly didn’t evoke what I’ve come to expect as horror and its many sub genres. Instead, Quarry seemed to fit more in the realm of a drama thriller. Even so, that’s not doing the film’s unique story justice. Part of the film’s mysterious charm is not being able to identify exactly what it is. What is clear are the levels of intensity and how they grow as the film progresses. What starts out as a petty tiff between two characters, winds up snowballing into an unbridled rage.
This is a horror film that isn’t concerned with shocking you, though. It doesn’t care if the buildup and slow burning fuse takes up your time or burdens you with unanswered questions. Quarry wants to tell a story about humans and our capacity to self-sabotage and destroy our own happiness by means of jealousy, possessiveness, wrath and entitlement. The story is told with class and grace, without heavy handedly serving us a morality platter. Too many films rely on manipulating the audience to feel a certain way or side with a particular character. The true magic of Quarry is making us forget we’re looking at characters at all. These are well realized, multifaceted characters with flaws, idiosyncrasies, beauty, insecurities and all the things that make someone more than just a contrived stereotype. In some horror movies, two dimensional characters work just fine, but here, its effectiveness depends on believability of the characters. Fortunately, Quarry is nearly perfect in that regard.
Technically, the film is on point. The color palette is consistent and the cinematography by Rafael Antonaccio simulates the discomfort of the situation very well. The location of the shoot feels isolated and far from easily traversable civilization. Music is used sparsely to good effect, as too many obvious musical queues might make the experience feel less intimate and more constructed. There’s not a significant amount of violence, but there are a couple effective moments that felt visceral and well-orchestrated from a practical standpoint. I do, however, wish there were more dedicated close up shots to emphasize the characters’ more uncomfortable moments. I think it could have added an extra layer to the already consistent theme.
In the Quarry should serve as a reminder that minimalistic design can be just as effective as an ambitious film endeavor. It should also remind us that we should leave our expectations at the door, as some films don’t fit into the genre boxes we’ve created. Some films transcend convention and strive to just tell a good story. While Quarry does contain traces of horror cinema, it’s certainly not defined by it. This is a class act and one of the best films I’ve seen all year.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth