The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Arrow] - THE SACRED SPIRIT | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Arrow] - THE SACRED SPIRIT

the sacred spirit review
A UFO enthusiast is caught up in the mystery surrounding his missing niece.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Chema Garcia Ibarra

Starring: Nacho Fernández, Llum Arqués, Joanna Valverde, Rocío Ibáñez, José Ángel Asensio

the sacred spirit poster

With his feature debut The Sacred Spirit, Spanish writer/director Chema Garcia Ibarra appears to be cut from the same absurdist cloth as his compatriots Almodóvar, Buñuel and Luna. Filming in his hometown of Elche with a non-professional cast, Ibarra mines laughs from very relatable yet absurd characters, but a final act pivot into dark subject matter comes off as somewhat misjudged.

the sacred spirit review

Ibarra introduces us to his film's main players through an initial series of vignettes. We first meet schoolgirl Veronica (Llum Arqués) as she reads out an essay she's written on the subject of baptism, which ventures into some decidedly politically incorrect territory. Veronica's twin sister has recently gone missing, with many of the local residents blaming the abduction on Romanian organ harvesters. A small group of ufologists who meet in a real estate office once a week have another theory. They're convinced that the child was taken by aliens.

When the leader of the group passes away, its running is entrusted to taciturn café owner José Manuel (Nacho Fernández), who happens to be the uncle of the abducted girl. Followed by a mysterious man with an electrolarynx and a group of strange people handing out Egyptology flyers, José begins to realise he's at the centre of a conspiracy.

the sacred spirit review

While this plot is slowly unraveling, Ibarra takes the time to paint a portrait of his hometown that's both loving and mocking. His vision of Elche is of a place with a tight sense of community, but also riddled with xenophobia. There's an irony to the latter, as every one of its residents seems obsessed with appropriating other cultures, from the aforementioned Egyptologists to José, who listens to tacky '90s new age CDs mixing Native American chants with dance beats. Nobody seems to really understand the cultures they're finding comfort in, but it seems as though this is a Spain desperate to replace Catholicism with something else. The local TV channel is constantly playing ads made by charlatans selling get rich quick schemes tied into "the secrets of the ancients," exploiting the locals' obsession with mysticism. This sense of cultural misappropriation is exemplified by a needle drop of a cheesy Iberian cover of The Cranberries' 'Zombie', performed in an upbeat manner that suggests the musicians have no idea it's a song about the Northern Ireland Troubles.

The use of non-professional actors works in two key ways here. It adds to the awkwardness and cringiness of the whole affair, with a cast of actors who appear uncomfortable in their own skin. But it also makes The Sacred Spirit a very charming watch. There's an innocence to the people of Elche portrayed here that may manifest itself in ignorance at times but also suggests that this is a community so tight-knit that the whole town is willing to throw itself at the mercy of a filmmaker who might have easily made them look like fools.

the sacred spirit review

This is exemplified by the central performance of Fernández, as uncomfortable a screen presence as you'll ever see, but also very relatably human. When a late twist is revealed, it almost feels like Ibarra is betraying both Fernández and the character he's playing. The shift into the darkest of subject matter cruelly sours everything we've watched play out, a cheap trick played on both the audience and the small world Ibarra has constructed.

I can't pretend its final act didn't leave me frustrated, but Ibarra sends us out with a closing shot that is a work of genius in microcosm, one which efficiently sums up the themes of the film we've just watched with a ridiculously clever piece of staging and an inspired needle drop. You'll be adding a certain tacky '90s new age number to your Spotify playlist.

The Sacred Spirit
 is on Arrow from April 15th.

2022 movie reviews