A good premise squandered

Asier Flores and Inma Cuesta in a scene in The Wasteland. (Photo © Netflix)

The Wasteland, also known as The Beast (La Bestia), is a Spanish horror film that tells a story of a 19th century family living together in a secluded area of Spain to escape an ongoing war taking place in the country. Directed by David Casademunt from a screenplay by Casademunt, Fran Menchón and Martí Lucas, the film stars Asier Flores, Inma Cuesta and Roberto Álamo.

The plot primarily centres on the lone child of a family named Diego (Flores) who is starting to come of age. His father Salvador (Álamo) sets out on a trip to do an important errand, leaving him to live with his mother Lucia (Cuesta) alone in fear. Then certain events occur that eventually lead an evil presence to haunt the land where the family lives. 

As the story progresses, the isolation gets more and more intense and the family gets more paranoid — the sounds they hear and the things they may see. They believe at some point that something is looming in the darkness. This presence grows stronger to a point that it begins to test the ties that bind the family together and they must find a way to overcome the evil before it consumes them.

The Wasteland is a quiet, slow burn of a paranoia horror film that has this three-person family centred on the narrative, and yes, there are no other players in this for the entire 90 minutes runtime. Very much like the characters themselves, the audience is left asking questions like, “Is this thing real or is this just their mind playing tricks on them?”. It’s a kind of story that should remind you of movies like The Babadook (2014) or The Wind (2018). So by design, the film may have done its job of being a beautiful-looking movie with a nail-biting, unnerving experience that swings for the fences. Yet I still have mixed feelings about The Wasteland. 

The movie starts off firing on all cylinders with atmosphere-drenched intention courtesy of its cinematography and other technical elements. The build-up begins really well and the chemistry between each character is believable. But as the story progressed, I found myself becoming increasingly more frustrated, especially the execution of the character development. When the evil finally arrives in the second half and the characters somehow start to lose their personalities, the story becomes dragged out. While Casademunt might have done a nice job at directing and executing this movie, what really made The Wasteland stand out was Isaac Vila, whose astounding cinematography is an essential element that drives this film. His visuals are wonderfully executed creating imagery that is beautiful, yet haunting and unsettling at the same time. One of my favourite elements is how the movie uses wide shots to showcase the vastness of the land the family lives in and how isolated and helpless they are. 

But as pretty as the movie can be on a technical level, it can’t save itself from the shallow premise and the number of horror clichés that are present in it. The style of slowness and quietness do require patience, and I can see how this could be a turn-off for some. And even when events begin to unravel, the story continues moving and is oddly slow paced. Of course, it is a very well-crafted movie, but I think the majority of the audience will find it too depressing. The Wasteland shows great promise with an impressive opening act, but fails to maintain its energy and gradually squanders its potential soon after with its lacklustre story.

  • The Wasteland
  • Starring Inma Cuesta, Asier Flores, Roberto Álamo
  • Directed by David Casademunt
  • Now streaming on Netflix
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