A few weekends ago, I was poorly, and whilst feeling sorry for myself on my couch, I managed to watch not one but two of the films on my 2014 list. The first was Novo (review), the second one was Hierro, which I’ve been a little tardy in writing up. Spoilers below!
In my list for 2014, I describe Hierro as similar to the Angelina Jolie film Changeling. Both focus on mothers with lost children, but Hierro has more of a horror twist. The wonderfully emotive Elena Anaya, a marine scientist and the mother with a lost child, searches for her lost son whilst staying in an odd and lonely motel on a remote island, complete with an errant young girl who plays in the corridors at all hours, sinister bird formations and a police chief who manages to border on the malevolent while objectively appearing helpful.
The setting is bleak, and Anaya’s grieving mother is achingly sad against the craggy island and tumultuous ocean. Her colleague and friend, just become a new mother, is unable to really empathise emotionally, self-protective if nothing else, and Anaya lets her leave quickly. Instead, there is another woman on the island with a missing child, disappeared after a car crash, whom Anaya can meet emotionally. Convinced that there is someone snatching children and that she has seen her own child on the beach, Anaya pursues a red-haired German woman around the island’s caravan sites.
Towards the end of the film, Anaya’s fight for her son becomes frenzied, the pace of the film rapid as she tries to escape the kidnapper, the police chief, and the island, all whilst bleeding heavily. It has all the hallmarks of a horror film’s last-minute escape from zombies/vampires/mad axe murderers, and so it is no surprise that there is a nasty twist at the end: the boy she has successfully snatched back is not her son, but the other missing boy. Anaya’s last-minute identification with the kidnapper — a mentally ill former schoolteacher wounded by no longer being able to be around children — is a wrench for her and for us, softened by the compassion of the other mother whose son Anaya has rescued, albeit unwittingly.