The Wait

The Wait (La Espera) (2023)

The Wait (La Espera)seen at Panic Fest 2024 

And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food. The tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

This textual quote that opens F. Javier Gutiérrez’s The Wait (La Espera) comes from the Biblical Book of Genesis (2:9), and serves as an oblique index of what is to come. For although the film is set in the arid Spanish hinterlands of the early 1970s, it will indeed prove to be a morality tale of temptations given into, rules transgressed and paradise lost, as a happy family of three loses everything to a sin that is too well-trodden, even timeless, to qualify as truly ‘original’. 

In the opening scene, over coffee in a bar, Eladio (Victor Clavijo) is given a job as keeper of a large, secluded hunting ranch by the estate’s owner Don Francisco (Pedro Casablanc) – whose face remains in shadow throughout their conversation. Despite Don Francisco’s warning, “If you betray your family, the land will curse you,” Eladio convinces the new boss that his big-town wife Marcia (Ruth Díaz) and young son Floren (Moisés Ruiz) will soon get used to life in the remote mountains, and they shake on the deal.

Three years later, Floren is indeed learning to shoot and to lead a hunt, even if Marcia has adapted less well to their harsh existence and barely talks to her husband anymore. When Don Carlos (Manuel Morón) tries to persuade Eladio to allow three extra parties to join an organised hunt, the ranch keeper says no – after all, letting too many groups hunt in a finite space increases the dangers of crossfire, and would be in direct contravention of Don Francisco’s explicit instructions. Yet Don Carlos’ offer of a cash bribe to sweeten the deal proves irresistible to Marcia who, Eve-like, brings her reluctant husband around. 

This transgression leads swiftly to a freak accident which will ramify in its consequences to suggest an eternal domestic tragedy where ethical choices come prescribed and predetermined, where chance and causality are indivisible, and where God (and the Devil) move in mysterious ways. As Eladio reaps the whirlwind of his actions, and unearths obscure, occult proofs of a land blighted by previous, not dissimilar instances of crime and punishment, the weight of conscience starts to haunt both his sleeping and waking hours, shifting Gutierrez’s film gradually into the territories of nightmarish horror.

Whether we are witnessing the breakdown of a man under the immense pressures of his own grief and guilt, or his affliction with rabies transmitted by his dog, or his reenactment of inexorable Old Testament retribution, perhaps remains ambiguous until the final act – and as to the meaning of the title, for that you too will have to wait till the bitter end. Yet this enigmatic, paranoid oater comes with enough austere beauty and wrong-footing thrills throughout to make The Wait very much worth your while. 

strap: F. Javier Gutierrez’s enigmatic horror oater makes a Spanish ranch in the 1970s reecho with Old Testament morality

© Anton Bitel