An exercise in below-average crime drama, El Guardian Invisible (2017) finds itself trapped between too many characters, local fables and soap opera particles, messily clustered into one movie.
Literature and cinema coexist in symbiosis, with the latter sourcing a lot of material from the first. Every now and then, an adaptation happens which surpasses its literary kin – like in the case of David Fincher’s super Gone Girl (2014). Alas in most cases, less skilled filmmakers tend to butcher the efforts made by the writers.
And while I’m a stranger to Dolores Redondo’s novels about detective Amaia Salazar, El Guardian Invisible (2017) seems to fit the above pattern too well.
What is El Guardian Invisible (2017) about?
El Guardian Invisible (2017) follows a young police officer Amaia Salazar, who is assigned to solve the mystery of a teenage girl found dead in Salazar’s hometown. Upon her arrival, detective Salazar meets her family, whom she left years ago. Now, the old wounds open again, which jeopardizes the clear thinking of Amaia.
At the foundation of every brilliant crime drama – from Heat (1995) and Mystic River (2003) to True Detective (2014-) – lie compelling, full-fledged characters. No matter how inventive, and twists-packed the plot gets, people constitute the heart and emotional connection between the audience and the actual drama. Arguably, we wouldn’t stand Nic Pizzolatto’s over-the-top narrative if not for Rust and Marty, and their riveting performances.
What’s the case with El Guardian Invisible (2017) then?
The cast is the fleeting pulse of El Guardian Invisible (2017)
Given her personal weight in the plot, Amaia Salazar is a chillingly bland and lifeless lead. For a person who reminisces traumatic childhood and abuse from her mother’s side, Amaia neglects the emotional imprint that those events should have had. And as she delves into the maze of lies in her Basque hometown, Amaia discovers a plot that should leave her shattered. However, Spanish actress Marta Etura channels none of that, and as a matter of fact, she’s the dead heart of El Guardian Invisible (2017).
Etura’s insipid performance causes troubles on the frontline for director Fernando Gonzalez Molina. Since the plot relies heavily on Amaia Salazar, El Guardian Invisible (2017) elicits little emotions – even despite its textbook exposition.
Frankly, the supporting cast in El Guardian Invisible (2017) isn’t any better
From members of Amaia’s family, to local policemen and townsmen, the characters are simply all over the place. It’s best portrayed by the film’s antagonist Flora, the Cruella Demon in the Salazar bloodline.
Elvira Minguez, who plays Flora, incorporates a similarly deadpan texture to her role, as serious as Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). However, the Marvel movie had every right to throw in such a one-note antagonist, because he served as a magnificent contrast. Flora’s most compelling moments are tantrums, more fitting for a bratty teenager. She brings a shade of grey to Amaia’s… shade of grey.
Color grading is off, and so is the plot
While I’m at it, Molina over-stylized colors are another issue to highlight.
In order to ooze the eerie atmosphere, El Guardian Invisible (2017) is dipped in artificial grading. Depending on the scenery, Flavio Martinez Labiano’s cinematography reminds of David Fincher’s green-flavored Zodiac (2007), or is luminescent, as in action blockbusters. As a consequence, El Guardian Invisible (2017) has no coherent visual design whatsoever.
As I have mentioned earlier, I have not read Dolores Redondo’s novel, which was adapted by Luiso Berdejo. Therefore, I can’t judge the source material on its own. However, what can be said here, is that the script consists of events that have little emotional background. Amaia’s exposition parts are artificial and forced, and especially the investigation feels largely chaotic, and often irrational.
Here’s an example.
At some point in the film, there is a scene when Amaia gets to interrogate her own sister. The bloodline connection should immediately cross that one out. But the plot needs to confront these two, in spite of logic. And I think that this scene captures the paradox of El Guardian Invisible (2017) well. In his pursuit after brooding atmosphere and looking up to the classics, Molina lost the soundness of mind to sit and think – do the pieces fit together?
In my opinion, they don’t. And it all begins with the wrong script, and the wrong person to carry this faulty script.
El Guardian Invisible (2017) – Culturally Loved or Hated?
This is a muddled story, and a boring protagonist, who are not worthy of the attention required to solve the puzzle.
Hate Grade: 7/10
El Guardian Invisible (2017)
Director: Fernando Gonzalez Molina
Writer: Luiso Berdejo
Starring: Marta Etura, Elvira Minguez, Nene
Music: Fernando Velazquez
Cinematography: Flavio Martinez Labiano
Where to watch: Netflix
If you liked El Guardian Invisible (2017), and are looking for similar movies, here’s a few recs:
- The Occupant (2019) – another Spanish thriller, which is neat story about a man going the extra mile to win back his luxurious apartment (review here),
- The Bone Collector (1999) – a classic whodunnit crime drama with solid roles from Angelina Jolie and Denzel Washington
- Contratiempo (2016) – an elaborate, complex thriller from Spain, with an ever-gripping plot that keeps surprising the audience