In the middle of a dark night that is filled with terror, Jordan and Cornelia are on the run from the law in a spooky Andalusian desert town. They are mere teens, but they are accused of something as vicious as murder. That’s the primary hook of Prime’s latest Spanish-language horror series Romancero, which debuted on Friday. The miniseries is a blend of many subgenres of both horror and thriller and is a very interesting watch overall. However, it tells the story in such a manner that, eighty percent of the time, you are trying to figure out what exactly is going on. It is like solving a puzzle, where you have been given all the necessary clues and have to figure things out by yourself. Of course, it does explain the main thing by the end, but a lot of it is left for interpretation by the audience. If you’re anything like me and love an experience like that, then Romancero should work for you.
I am a fan of both atmospheric and socialist horror. Both subgenres have flourished over the past ten-fifteen years, as we’ve seen in many movies and shows, making it a point to use their location either as a character or a pivotal storytelling tool. Romancero is set in a gloomy Andalusian desert town. Time doesn’t move much there. The series’ lead, Jordan, goes about his day stealing things like mobile phones from a local shopping mall to fill his quota of cheap thrills. The life ahead doesn’t look too bright for him. At home, though, Jordan is a dutiful son, which happened mainly because of his father, who is an abusive drunkard who has given up on his life, and his family. From helping his mother by doing the dishes to taking care of his younger brothers and sisters, Jordan does everything that his father is supposed to do. Sadly, though, that frustrates his father, and Jordan ends up taking a heavy beating from him, until the father meets his doom in the hands of Cornelia. This is not exactly a spoiler per se. The series doesn’t take much time to give away that Cornelia does kill people. In fact, she drinks their blood. It is actually a necessity for her to stay alive. In case you’re wondering, yes, it does remind you of the iconic Swedish horror Let the Right One in (2008) and its fantastic American adaptation, which came two years later. However, unlike that film, which focused mainly on the psyches of its teen protagonists and worked as a story of the two coming-of-age through a series of events, Romancero brings in socialist as well as capitalist angles into the mix.
The Andalusian landscape plays a pivotal role in bringing in all the socialist horror elements in Romancero. Notorious for never-ending immigrant issues as well as a racism problem fueled by the right-wing fascist government, the Andalusian desert town worked as a perfect setting in the context of the story. This is a land where a White male police officer torments colored immigrants just to get some kick out of it. He takes it out on his rather supportive wife for his own inability to get it up during you-know-what. Not to mention, he also happens to be homophobic. Another police officer thinks it’s okay to hit on his own sister, and when that sister rightfully blocks him out of her life, he gets mad at her and vents about it to the other officers. Imagine the horror of having these two as the authoritarian figures who are supposed to take care of your safety! The horror of that is more severe than any ghost, demon, or supernatural stuff, isn’t it?
Other than Let the Right One in, the miniseries reminded me of two other horror movies of our time: Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow (2016) and Michelle Garza Cervera’s Huesera: The Bone Woman, which was released earlier this year. Both films followed a certain style of blending supernatural horror with real-world issues, just like Romancero has done. While in Under the Shadow, a war-torn country and its situation were a big deal, Huesera dealt with more personal stuff like casual patriarchy, postpartum depression, and body-shaming. Romancero is a bit of both, but the storytelling of both films was much more fluid and constrictive than the series. My biggest issue with the story is, in fact, its non-linear storytelling structure, which kind of feels like a gimmick. The story of two young kids trying to find their way in a world that is filled with evil of both the regular and not-so-regular kinds is already so novel that it doesn’t need to be told in a manner that is confusing for the audience. I can assume the thought process behind this creative choice is probably making it in a certain way that people keep talking about it. That is fine, but not at the expense of (kind of) ruining a genuinely good, extremely relevant story in the context of the modern-day world. Its technology is very solid, though, as the series looks like a fever dream. The acting is quite fantastic, which makes you feel for the characters and eventually root for the one that matters.
Despite the storytelling issues, it is admirable how Romancero attempts to rise above the usual horror structure by infusing so many real-world problems and attempting to start conversations. Sure, it is not exactly original, but I believe socialist horror is still not fully explored, so content like Romancero should always be welcomed with open arms. Watching two teenagers filled with angst go toe-in-toe with male privilege, patriarchy and supernatural evil is always a satisfying thing. Not to mention, I thought it was smart of the makers to end Romancero at a point where another season can happen, but if it doesn’t, the conclusion is satisfying enough for the audience.