THE WAIT - Poster

The Wait (2023) Review – Fantastic Fest

Writer/director F. Javier Gutiérrez (After the Fall, Rings) returned to his native Spain to make his third film La Espera, or, in English, The Wait. It’s a title that refers not just to the passage of time but to the ten hunting stands on the estate of Don Francisco (Pedro Casablanc, Phenomena, Under Her Control). They are watched over by Eladio (Víctor Clavijo, Vampus Horror Tales, The Ministry of Time), who lives on the remote property with his wife Marcia (Ruth Díaz, 13 Exorcisms, The Fury of a Patient Man), and their son, Floren (Moisés Ruiz).

At the start of the 1973 hunting season, he’s told by Don Carlos (Manuel Morón, Cell 211, Valley of the Dead), Don Francisco’s right-hand man, to surreptitiously add three more. At first, he refuses, saying that would crowd the hunting parties and be unsafe due to the risk of crossfires. Eventually, he relents, a decision he soon regrets when Floren is killed in a freak accident leading to Marcia’s suicide.

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Soon he begins to see signs of an occult conspiracy, a horned skull and slaughtered animals among others, everywhere he turns. But is it the supernatural, or has his grief and drinking gotten the better of him?

Gutiérrez refers to The Wait as “a disturbing folk horror, brutal, uncompromised, with the soul of a western.”. While it never gained the prominence that Italy did, Spain was a popular location for filming horse operas due to its desert and sun-baked landscapes. One can see that influence in not just the landscape, but also in the themes of revenge that run through the story. The horror elements, folk or otherwise, don’t really show up until near the end of The Wait. They’re a mix of European folk horror with visuals that recall 1970s satanic themed films set in the modern day Southwest like The Devil’s Rain, The Brotherhood of Satan, and Enter the Devil.

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Gutiérrez and director of photography Miguel Ángel Mora (Witches from Heaven, If Only) contrast the bright, sunny and wide open landscape with the dark, confined spaces Eladio frequently finds himself in. It helps create a sense of claustrophobia and imprisonment. And it’s that feeling that drives the film’s last act as the pieces come together, forming not so much the whole picture as they do a trap with fewer and fewer possible escapes.

The Wait isn’t all quiet horror, though, as this sense of doom is punctuated with several jump scares. That includes one admittedly effective scene that has no connection to the plot and seems to be there simply to nod at An American Werewolf in London. The effects for these scenes, while few and basic, are mostly practical and effective.

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Unfortunately, the abrupt way the film changes plot and tones along with its inability to build a connection to Eladio, who is very much a man of few words or visible emotions. And for much of the time, there’s no one around to talk or express them to. This keeps the viewer from caring about his fate, and that keeps the film from reaching its potential. It’s agreeably creepy and holds the attention, but it can’t create the intensity that lures viewers to the edge of their seats.

Nice to look at and never boring, The Wait is worth a watch, especially for folk horror fans. But it’s not a film that will stick with you, even though it could have been.

The Wait had its world premiere at Germany’s Oldenburg Film Festival and will make its North American debut at Fantastic Fest on Saturday, September 23rd with a second screening on the 26th. You can find more information, including how to get tickets, here.

Our Score
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