Below Zero On Netflix Review: A Taut Spanish Prison-Break Thriller Undone By Its Shoddy Premise

Below Zero On Netflix Review: A Taut Spanish Prison-Break Thriller Undone By Its Shoddy Premise

The 1 hour 45 minute film is understandably trending on Netflix given its dark, chilly mood. But it refuses to go beyond its atmospheric setup.

Director: Lluís Quílez
Producer: Josep Amorós, Pedro Uriol
Writer: Fernando Navarro, Lluís Quílez
Cast: Javier Gutiérrez, Karra Elejalde, Isak Férriz

The freezing temperature and accompanying atmospheric mist is the titular character here, because it lends mystery to this Spanish thriller. On a road with thick sponges of mist, it is hard to see what is beyond what is directly in front of you. The makers use this metaphor to plot a prison break drama that is taut in execution but is undone by its shoddy premise. The moral: look beyond what is most obvious. 

It's an all male world. Two police officers Martin (Javier Gutiérrez) and Montesinos (Isak Férriz) are tasked with transferring six criminals from one prison to the other. It is Martin's first day, and the first we see of him, it's pouring, and he is attempting to fix a tyre as his young daughter sits inside mulling why old tyres are thrown to bring in the new. Her first lesson in disposability. Both— tyres and daughters— become important as the 1 hour 50 minute movie plods along. 

The prisoners are transferred with clinical precision—handcuffed, put in separate cells in a big  vehicle, and as they are locked in, they put their handcuffed hands out through a big slit in the door for the policemen to uncuff them. The criminals have backstories, and as the night progresses some of these are brought out. Ramis, the most jovial, just wants out— he wants to open a bar which plays Bambino all day and serves the best Tapas. Others are more grim. One of them notes the logistics of holding someone captive, the cost to the taxpayer to keep prisons running and prisoners in. It's a throwaway moment—that we expect people to pay money to keep people convicted of violent circumstances in violent conditions with just enough to stay alive. The prison-industrial complex isn't designed to reform, but to reinforce violence.  

As the prisoners are being transferred there is an attempt at breaking in. Is this to rescue a prisoner? Is this to take a prisoner and deal with them personally? Is this an anti-state intervention? The intentions uncloud as the misty night thickens, and it is here that the taut thriller loses its edge. 

Spoilers Ahead

The all-man-world is a necessary template here. All the police officers, and all the prisoners are men. Women are shadows in this tale— the wife and children whose screen presence is relegated to photographs and phone screensavers, the daughter that is raped, the sister that is raped, and these rapes that must be avenged by the burly, grunting men. 

This is not to say that the film plays out entirely with the cliche saviour complex. It notes the futility of violence in seeking justice. When one of the prisoners talks about killing the man who raped her sister, another prisoner looks at him and notes, "No offence, but did that help your sister?"

Even as it is self-aware of this, it milks the trope till the climactic showdown between the revenging and the revenged. It unfurls without tension and all that mystique and tautness that the film began with bloats into a boredom. The thrill is now not in how the violence is performed, but in the grotesqueness of the violence— the burned bodies, the drill through the head, the bullet smashing a hand into smithereens of muscle bleeding into the snow. 

The rape revenge drama has often been couched under the thriller genre, giving it intention and emotion. But it's an old trope that foregrounds men in stories of violence against women. Holding onto this aged adage is like holding onto the old tyres of a car. It's punctured, deflated. Replace it. Martin did it, even as his daughter sulked through it. 

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