TIFF 2022: Jaume Balaguero’s ‘Venus’

One wonders if director Jaume Balaguero has had a particularly bad string of bad luck with rental apartments. In his breakout hit [REC], a first-person horror about an otherworldly, malevolent force that terrorizes the residents and the first-responders in a Barcelona tenement, Balaguero found deep horror in the claustrophobic hallways and the unknown of what could be behind every door that comprise them. So, too, does the director mine the same kind of terror in his newest chiller, Venus, which transposes the cosmic horror of the classic H.P Lovecraft concept The Dreams in the Witch House into the concrete towers of Madrid. 

Venus opens at a Madrid nightclub, where go-go dancer Lucia (Ester Expósito) undertakes the risky theft of a huge duffel bag worth of narcotics from the owner’s private stash. She’s nearly caught by one of the club’s bouncers and suffers an injury, but escapes to her long-estranged sister Rocio’s apartment in the run-down and isolated Edificio Venus, a tenement in a decidedly sketchy part of town. There, she meets her charming but precocious niece Alba (Inés Fernández) and slowly becomes privy to the darkness that plagues the Venus building, and the eccentric residents that live just upstairs. Rocio soon disappears, leaving a curiously-unconcerned Alba in Lucia’s care, all while the gangsters from the nightclub close in on Lucia and the drugs. Meanwhile, a dark force festers in the apartment upstairs, and may be the reason for Rocio’s sudden absence.

Venus balances a tender story of loss and estrangement with the intensely-ratcheting tension of a gangster thriller and cosmic Lovecraftian horror. Balaguero establishes the mythology of the Queen of Sorrow with seemingly-tangental news reports of a sudden eclipse, and the idea that “three innocent women will die.” In Balaguero’s deft hands, the three elements come together in a heart-stopping climax that should satisfy action and gore fans in true midnight movie fashion. 

Exposito and Fernandez’s Lucia and Alba have most of the heavy lifting to do in Venus, and their chemistry carries a lot of the middle of the movie before shit really hits the fan. Exposito, especially, is asked a lot in the movie, often in close-up. This is a pretty goopy movie, with barely ten minutes ever going by without a splatter of blood or oozing wounds. When things get really Lovecraftian in the movie’s second half, Venus displays some decent CG and practical effects, as well as some inspired costume and set design.

A genuine crowd pleaser from Alex de la Iglesias’ Fear Collection collaboration with Amazon Prime Video, Jaume Balaguero’s Venus blends a siege movie, crime thriller, and cosmic horror together to create classic midnight movie fare. It starts off with a high intensity sequence and ranks up in tension, humor, and cosmic horror vibes in a natural way, barely letting it’s foot off the gas for the whole time. I’m used to seeing these films with a particular audience, the notoriously riotous Midnight Madness crowd that cheers every kill and every wild story twist, and though I attended a press screening of Venus, I could picture every moment that would bring the Midnight audience to its feet. 

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