In need of some quick cash in order to participate in a graduation trip, Ana responds to a babysitting ad. Ana eventually arrives at the home of Diamantina — a former pianist prodigy and avid collector of dolls. Even though Diamantina seems a little strange, the job appears to be pretty straight forward and Ana agrees. That is until she meets Diamantina’s daughter Elisa. Now Ana just wants to leave but that’s easier said than done.
“Para Elisa” is one of those movies that gained some early attention by word of mouth but, unfortunately, struggled a bit to find a release state side. Thanks to Dark Sky Films though, Juanra Fernández’s horror debut is finally available. I say that but, since I perpetually live under a rock, I was unaware of “Para Elisa” until the press release landed in Film Bizarro’s inbox.
Party girl Ana is set to graduate and wants to participate in her class’s graduation trip. Eventually Ana resorts to having to look for a quick and easy job after being denied the money by her mother, and isn’t long before she finds one — a babysitting job. A relatively simple job and when Ana goes to meet Diamantina, the woman who posted the ad, everything seems normal. Outside of Diamantina’s eccentric dolls collection, of course. It’s when Ana is introduced to Diamantina’s daughter, Elisa, that Ana realizes the shocking truth and soon becomes the new “doll” for the deranged mother and daughter. Now Ana has to find a way to escape before she becomes another broken toy of Elisa’s.
I was curious going into “Para Elisa” since the concept sounded promising and Spanish horror films tend to be fairly interesting as well. At the end though, I was rather on the fence with the film. It certainly wasn’t a bad movie but it felt like there was something lacking. It is a somewhat familiar concept — a young girl going into a strange home and then the young girl inevitably becomes a “play thing” for the child (or children) children of a psychotic family — and that aspect was done very well in “Para Elisa”. And given the horrible trend of films being bogged down with back story, I enjoyed the fact that Fernández’s film is rather streamlined.
As an example, we don’t know why Diamantina and Elisa are the way that they are, and that works perfectly for the film. It would have simply muddled the plot with unnecessary details. Especially since the the film is about Ana and whether or not she can escape this nightmare of a situation that she’s in — that’s what the tension and the atmosphere is built off of. The movie also presents an interesting twist (for lack of a better word) in that it becomes about Ana escaping the clutches of the deranged daughter rather than the head of the family. The downside is that’s all the movie has to offer.
Certainly that won’t be a bad thing at all for some viewers and “Para Elisa” will play very well for said viewers. There seemed to be something missing from the movie. Something to latch on to. Because the movie is streamlined and only features the necessary elements, characters, and plot points to function, there’s little to nothing else offered to the viewer outside of the tension of “will she or won’t she escape."
It doesn’t help that Ana is an unsympathetic character. There are only a few characters all of whom are given minimal characterization — again, which is fine — but what we do get to know about Ana is that she’s a self-centered spoiled brat. And her boyfriend, the character that’s suppose to save Ana, comes across as a borderline psychopath. For a horror movie, characters like that can be passible on certain occasions but with “Para Elisa” it would have been nice if I could have had more of an investment in Ana’s plight. But because they came across as unlikable, and were basically horrible, I couldn't care if Ana escaped or if Alex (Jesús Caba) ever found her. Part of the problem is also because Diamantina and Elisa were the more interesting characters.
Because I was unable to become invested in the characters, it was the natural tension of the movie’s concept that kept my interest going and it’s why “Para Elisa” is a middle-of-the-road movie for me. As previously stated, I can’t say it’s a bad movie because it’s not. It’s a great looking movie that was well produced and the writing is satisfactory — and I appreciate the simplified story that wasn’t overwrought with needless details. There just wasn’t enough substance or something that allowed me to get into the movie and really enjoy it. With that being said, if you’re a fan of movies where the story revolves around the lead character trying to escape or takes place inside the home of a deranged family, then I think you’ll find “Para Elisa” to be enjoyable.