A Film a Week - Eye for an Eye / Quien a hierro mata

Even before the corona-crisis that put the streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon in the very centre of the film distribution world, those platforms were already in the midst of expansion of their business, especially to the non-English-speaking world. One of the juiciest acquisitions in that field would be a very dark revenge drama-thriller Eye for an Eye, directed by Paco Plaza (of the REC found footage serial fame). After a short stint of theatrical distribution at home in the last year's early autumn, it moved to Netflix in January.

It all starts with an old school drug kingpin Antonio (Xan Cejudo) being released from the prison for medical reasons to die at home of his terminal illness. Instead of spending his last days at home with his two sons, Tono (Ismael Martinez, glimpsed in Pedro Almodovar's Talk to Her) and Kiko (Enric Auquer), whom he both despises, he checks in to a nursing home where the male nurse Mario (Luis Tosar, Cell 211) takes interest in caring for him.

While the brothers hatched a deal with both the Chinese and Colombian gangsters that went horribly wrong, so they need their father's money and influence to save their asses, Mario is more of a mysterious character with a personal motivation of his own. He wants to avenge the death of his younger brother who fell victim of Antonio's clan, so he cares for the old mobster by day, but laces his infusion with bleach by night. The thing Mario forgets is that the revenge is usually a two-way street, that he is not alone in the world, since he is expecting a baby with his wife Julia (Maria Vazquez) whom he loves deeply, and that Antonio is by no means a stupid, weak or powerless man, even though he appears to the latter...

The plot constructed in an air-tight fashion by the scriptwriting duo consisting of Juan Galinanes and Alex de la Iglesia's veteran collaborator Jorge Guerricaecheveria takes a little bit more time to kick in fully, but once it does, around the mid-point, Eye for an Eye becomes a really tense, thrilling and occasionally brutal viewing experience. The prolonged exposition has its own perks, though, like the positioning of the characters motivation-wise and also painting the foggy, greyish-blue landscape of Spain's north-western region of Galicia. Once the action starts, Paco Plaza swiftly changes his directing style, adds more significant close-ups to largely hand-held camerawork handled by Pablo Rosso and uses Maika Makowski's orchestral score more frequently for the added sense of drama.

The acting is brilliant throughout. There is a certain gentleness in Maria Vazquez' approach to the character of Julia, Ismael Martinez and Enric Auquer are both memorable as Tono and Kiko, while Luis Tosar plays against his usual leading man type, but succeeds to keep the mystery about Mario unrevealed for long enough. The interplay he has with Xan Cejudo as Antonio is the acting highlight of the film and a pure joy to watch.

Both Paco Plaza and Netflix have hit a bull's eye here. The director by showing he is by no means a one-trick pony capable only of recycling his found-footage schtick (his previous feature Veronica was an unimpressive attempt at a garden variety Oujia-themed horror), and the distributor by having the right sense for an international thriller that works as well on a small screen as it does on a big one.

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