A beautiful and well played thriller, with plenty of moral questions to consider, while it very subtly comments on Spain’s history.
It’s unnerving how much Marshland resembles the first season of True Detective. Even lead Raúl Arévalo, playing the detective Pedro, looks eerily similar to Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle. Given that the former started filming before the latter’s release, this isn’t cause for concern about plagiarism. Maybe there’s something in the air across the world that is inspiring more atmospheric noir and investigative thrillers, where detectives who walk around in brown suits deal with backwater communities and their own demons. There’s much less philosophy and discussion in Marshland however, than in its American TV cousin, but no less meat to chew on.
When two teenage sisters go missing in a small country community in the south of Spain, 1980, two homicide detectives are called in to investigate. Upon discovering their bodies, detectives Pedro and Juan (Javier Guriérrez) realise that this is the work of a serial killer who has terrorised the community for almost half a decade. The two detectives must battle against the deeply misogynistic past and present of the community if they are to stop more people being hurt.
At just under 100 minutes, Marshland clips along rather rapidly in its investigative drama, jumping straight into the investigation. There’s little time devoted to informing us about any of the characters in particular, leaving the lead actors to fill in the gaps with their excellent performances. Gutiérrez especially digs into the little and big details of Juan to make him a rich character. True Detective comparisons end however, when as the case progresses it becomes harder to see what really distinguishes the leads. Despite Juan’s clear predilection for drinking, neither of them are above using a rough hand or persuasion to get what they need. It isn’t exactly a case of Tortured Cop/Simple Cop, or even the far more simplistic Good Cop/Bad Cop. They’re just cops, who are more often than not, very good at their job.
Marshland is frequently incredibly beautiful in its photography also. Even as characters move up and down a road, taking in a crime scene, the camera follows them intently, never cutting away, and making great use of the desolate and empty spaces. It’s really impossible to ignore the relationship the film has to Spain’s fascistic past, particularly given the period setting. Whilst it may be missed as the leads’ pursue the (frankly obvious) killer, as the credits roll you’re left with lots of questions to mull over, most of them about the character of Juan.
Marshland (2014), directed by Alberto Rodriguez, is distributed in the UK by Altitude Films. Certificate 15.