Producer Álex de la Iglesia (The Day of the Beast) enlisted horror director Jaume Balagueró (REC, Sleep Tight) to helm the newest entry in his feature film series “The Fear Collection.” Balagueró teamed with Verónica scribe Fernando Navarro to co-write Venus, a blood-drenched and modern update to H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House.” A violent crime thriller gets applied to the Lovecraftian tale, presenting a compelling distraction for the cosmic horror to invade quietly.
Club dancer Lucía (Ester Expósito) abandons her platform mid-shift during peak hours to sneak into the back offices and swipe designer drugs from her corrupt employers. She gets caught by one of the enforcers and barely escapes with her life and the loot. Lucía, knowing the crime boss and his henchmen won’t rest until their stash is retrieved, retreats to the one place they won’t know to find her; with her estranged sister Rocío (Ángela Cremonte) and niece Alba (Inés Fernández). Tensions between the sisters are already rough, but then Rocío flees the decrepit apartment building, leaving Lucía alone with Alba in an increasingly strange apartment building.
Balagueró keeps Lucía’s messy drug theft predicament at the forefront, with subtle clues that something’s deeply amiss with the Venus building lurking in the background. She’s trapped there not just by the mafia’s dogged pursuit of her but by her sister’s seeming abandonment of Alba. It’s an effective means of prolonging the answers to the building’s most prominent mysteries and escalating the tension. Constant cuts to the mafia’s tactics in finding Lucía add a time crunch element as their search closes in like a noose around her neck.
Venus keeps everything so firmly rooted in the present that even Lucía’s rendered a bit vague. Enough details are given to paint her as a morally ambiguous protagonist with a checkered past. The sibling relationship between Lucía and Rocío isn’t developed enough for some of its emotional highs and lows to fully make an impact. However, both actors commit to the intensity regardless. Alba’s precociousness is more compelling; the adorable and intelligent young child convincingly provides a plausible motivator and emotional throughline for aunt Lucía.
In true Lovecraftian style, the horror comes slowly and vaguely, at least at first. Nightmares taunt Lucía at night, while Alba’s prophetic musings by day all signal a larger presence toying with the fates of Venus’s residents. The longer Lucía’s forced to remain within the building, the more the horror progresses. Wounds ooze and pulsate, self-mutilations induce wincing, and arterial spray escalates the terror from subtle to grotesque. The collision course between the mafia and the Venus tenants creates an explosive and satisfyingly gory third act.
Balagueró’s latest may draw from a familiar Lovecraft short, but its emphasis on the crime aspect puts it closer to a siege thriller than cosmic horror. Its mythology and character beats may be thinly drawn, but it doesn’t detract from the propulsive action sequences or gory moments. Expósito demonstrates her horror mettle as a resilient and determined heroine, especially in that breathless climax. Overall, Venus makes for a slick and breezy action-horror movie far more memorable for its gruesome high-octane thrills than its cosmic chills.
Venus made its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.