Amigo (2019)

Its title is the Spanish word for ‘friend’, and it opens with a Biblical quote on friendship: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Accordingly, Óscar Martín’s feature debut Amigo, which he co-wrote with his stars David Pareja and Javier Botet, is indeed a study of friendship strained to its outer limits. We can see it in the opening sequence, as David (Pareja) struggles – single-handedly and stoically – to get his childhood friend Javi (Botet), now paralysed, out of his car, onto a wheelchair, up a rocky road and into an isolated hillside house, before carrying him, Pietà-like, up the stairs to what will become the invalid’s bedroom. 

After Javi was in an accident that killed his wife and left him immobilised, hideously scarred and unable, owing to damaged lungs, even to speak in more than muted tones, David has taken it upon himself to go above and beyond the normal expectations of friendship. Apart from occasional visits from physiotherapist Eva (Patricia Estremera), now David is Javi’s sole carer, watching over him, feeding him, carrying him to the toilet, helping him bathe, cleaning up after him, keeping him company – and when forced to choose between his own girlfriend Lourdes (Esther Gimeno) and Javi, David unhesitantly opts for his friend over his lover. Yet even if David has sacrificed his own sex life, he will not let Javi miss out, arranging for the prostitute Diana (Luichi Macías) to visit and give Javi hand relief. Unable to assert his own views on what is happening to him or even to say no, Javi stares in horror at the tense thriller playing on the television which modulates his feelings of entrapment as Diana gets to work, in a sex scene that is darkly, dismally comic. 

An early bath for Javi (Javier Botet)

Grieving the loss of his wife and having to come to terms with his own life-changing injuries, poor Javi is more captive than patient, left with little agency as David insistently tends him. Making things worse, Javi holds David responsible for the accident, and harbours resentment towards his ‘amigo’ – and the impression is created that David’s oversolicitous ministrations are a sub-conscious attempt to atone for his own unacknowledged guilt. Really, in looking after Javi, David is serving his own needs, and he does not even listen to Javi’s wants, preferring to project his own onto him. The one exception is when Javi, in a moment of bleak despair, expresses a desire for it all to end. This idea lodges somewhere in David’s mind, and as a snowstorm over the Christmas period blocks access to his meds, sleepless David drifts into a paranoid state. Is Javi secretly back on his feet and plotting to kill David? Or is David succumbing to delusion, and becoming a significant danger to his helpless ward? And in this intense homosocial relationship, how far will love go?

Like Rob Reiner’s Misery (1990), Amigo concerns a man who is a prisoner both to his own bodily infirmities and increasingly to another’s madness – and their ensuing conflict, all at once eroticised and unhinged, tests the outer limits of what friendship even means. The actor Botet is best known for playing juddery, angular monsters who scuttle creepily through films like Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s Rec (2007), Andy Muschietti’s MAMA (2013), Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak (2015), Johannes Roberts’ The Other Side of the Door (2016), James Wan’s The Conjuring 2 (2016), Caradog W. James’ Don’t Knock Twice (2016), Sylvain White’s Slender Man (2018) and André Øvredal’s Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019) – but here his character is entirely human, and defined precisely by his frailty and his immobilty. Still, Botet’s association with those other films will have us wondering if his Javi might in fact after all be the monster that David imagines him to be. This black Hitchcockian psycho-comedy of bitter recriminations and forced love might have been called Enemigo, were that title not already taken.  

strap: Óscar Martín’s darkly Hitchcockian comic thriller tracks a grieving, paralysed man’s dissolving relationship with his best friend and carer

© Anton Bitel