FANTASTIC FEST 2023: THE WAIT(La Espera), is Worth It

Warning: If you’d rather not be spoiled, I would skip this review until you’ve seen the film. 

The Wait (La Espera) is a sundrenched rural thriller that drips with a sweltering atmosphere as it tells the story of Eladio (Víctor Clavijo) a humble groundskeeper charged with watching over the rural Spanish hunting grounds of Don Francisco. The area is divided into 10 hunting areas to avoid accidents, but three years into his charge, Don Carlos (Francisco’s 2nd in command) offers him a bribe to add an additional three hunting areas for an upcoming, overbooked hunt. Eladio is a simple and honest man, and initially hesitates, but after his wife calls him a coward, he relents and his fortune is forever changed for the worse when his son is accidentally killed in crossfire during the hunt. The Wait is a film that, like a hot day, slowly takes hold of you, overwhelming you by the its end. 

Director F. Javier Gutierrez crafts a sweltering fever dream of a narrative as the film begins its descent into madness as soon as the humble groundskeeper takes the bribe, which up until then is a pretty straightforward tale. From there the film makes its way into some surprising crevices of the human psyche thanks to a rather impressive performance by Clavijo, as we get to see the film turn some eerie supernatural corners. It’s something that’s contingent on the first two acts being very grounded, that the narrative makes an impressive jump into something much more in the vein of folk horror in its final beats. Its deliberately paced execution until this moment is a sight to behold as Eladio slowly uncovers the trap set before him and his family, that he triggered the moment he succumbed to temptation. 

The Wait is a compelling slow burn that seamlessly evolves from crime thriller, to acid western, and finally folk horror without missing a beat. It’s not an easy transition, but Gutierrez confidently changes gears in a third act that goes from Sicario to The Wicker Man as all the pieces finally fall into place around our helpless protagonist. It’s a testament to Clavijo’s performance since he also goes through his own transformation as the film thematically touches on morality, addiction and the cyclic nature or poverty and oppression in rural impoverished areas. While I really had no expectations before sitting down, I was genuentley taken with what transpired in the film that is as much a moral play as it is a psychological one with its story of one man’s descent into his own hell.

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