ROPES aka PREY (2019)
Directed by José Luis Montesinos
Spanish Language with English Subtitles
Screened at Grimmfest 2020
A quadriplegic young woman fights for her life when she finds herself trapped all alone in a house with only her support dog for company which, unfortunately for her, has contracted rabies.
Have you ever been fully dependent on someone else? What would happen if that person was no longer there and you had to fend for yourself despite being almost physically incapable of doing so, even for the most simplest of things, such as opening a fridge door or any door for that matter? Spanish movie ROPES, also known as PREY, explores this concept and ramps it up a gear to ensure your heart is firmly in your mouth.
ROPES centres around Elena who moves into an old family retreat which has been partially converted for her needs following an accident that left her in an electric wheelchair. She’s joined by her attentive father who wants to do right by his daughter but is clearly grieving for other losses in his family. Elena clearly isn’t in the mood to humour her father, despite his best intentions, and appears bitter about the whole situation, even to the extent of being frosty with her own father. To help her adjust to her new way of life, her father has obtained a support dog that, although isn’t 100% obedient, can perform important tasks such as opening doors around the property by pulling on the rope handles. It’s not a perfect set up but you can tell that her father is keen to make it work.
In the initial scenes, it’s hard to warm to Elena; her scowling, pissed off demeanour making her quite an unlikable character on the surface. Locking her support dog Athos out of the house and generally being a grumpy teenager/early 20-something, it takes a while for us to empathise with her. However, her mean facade quickly crumbles when she finds herself all alone at the property with only an over enthusiastic dog for company and her pet ferret, Luke. That in itself turns into a different nightmare when the dog contracts rabies and turns on her!
The resulting scenes play out like a cat and mouse game with Athos the predator and Elena very much the prey. As it stalks the property and shuttles through the ventilation like a Xenomorph from the Alien franchise, you begin to wonder at what moment this dog is going to savage the girl. With a crazed look in its eye and frothing at the mouth like a certain St Bernard we know, Athos has gone from her lifeline to a threat to her life. Unable to grip properly due to her disabilities, Elena is forced to struggle around the property, tugging, where able, on the ropes that hang off every door handle, navigating her way through the home to hide from her devil dog. If being alone wasn’t enough, she’s also acutely aware that her electric wheelchair is on the last few bars of its battery. What will happen to her when the battery dies, that’s if she manages to survive the night?
This Cujo-inspired Spanish horror thriller, with a hint of The Monkey’s Paw and Gerald’s Game, is a claustrophobic, tense affair which feels very much like something Stephen King would have penned himself, hence the reference to the two titles. It has its intense moments of sheer panic, when face-to-face with Athos, whilst in the quiet moments it leaves you’re on edge, anticipating that something is about to happen at any moment.
The visual effects are quite tastefully done to keep a realism to the story. Even CGI is used quite sparingly and, to no surprise, comes in useful for the animal parts, such as certain scenes involving Luke the ferret and a rabid Athos. In most parts of the movie, the CGI works to great effect although towards the latter end of the movie, a snarling Athos with his CGI’d exposed teeth looks hilarious and distracts from the seriousness of the predicament that Elena finds herself in.
They say never work with children or animals. Fortunately, the creators behind ROPES decided to ignore the old adage as animals in this film certainly steal the show. Espiona, the dog who stars as Athos, is a fantastic performer and provides tremendous moments throughout the movie, from comedic peering behind a wall, a la Michael Myers, in a bid to hunt down its prey, to the more intense scenes of attacking and attempting to break through windows and doors. As a Belgian Shepherd (think German Shepherd-esque physique and appearance), it can be seen initially as a cute, goofy yet kind dog but with the capabilities of being a terrifying, crazed hound from hell. Despite me fearing Athos in the later scenes, Espiona is still a gorgeous dog to behold!
ROPES has oodles of charm and is effective at turning up the tension and fear factor as you find yourself in Elena’s shoes with the empty house even playing its role in Elena’s torment. Much like the aforementioned Cujo, the viewer completely empathises with the character and the situation they’re in, desperately seeking some kind of rescue from this terrifying episode.
With an intensity that will certainly get your pulse racing, ROPES is a wonderfully-executed, calculated canine horror thriller that puts its own spin on a familiar exchange.