Synopsis: When the body of a powerful businesswoman disappears from the morgue, the inspector in charge hunts for the truth. But when he questions her husband, he realizes there is much more to the case than meets the eye.
Stars: José Coronado, Hugo Silva, Belén Rueda, Aura Garrido, Juan Pablo Shuk, Cristina Plazas
Director: Oriol Paulo
Running Length: 112 minutes
TMMM Score: (8.5/10)
Review: I like to travel to Spain to collect my titles when it comes to finding easy-to-recommend examples of tight, taught suspense with unpredictable plots. There’s something about the way Spanish filmmakers construct their films, less apt for the tidy endings American studios like to have and avoiding the extremes other European directors favor. You can see the influences in these other countries, yet the vision is still singular and unique.
A few years back, a significant puzzle piece fell into place when I recognized the name Oriol Paulo on several of the films I was scoring with high marks. The writer of an all-time favorite of mine, 2010’s Julia’s Eyes (Los ojos de Julia), I had been mighty impressed with his 2016 film The Invisible Guest and 2018’s Mirage. Looking for more Paulo work to absorb, I tried to track down his first outing as a director, 2012’s The Body (El Cuerpo). Paulo’s thriller was a hard-to-find title, and it was only recently that I could get my hands on it. The wait was worth it.
Demonstrating that Paulo’s sure hand as a writer translated into his skill as a director, the screenplay he co-wrote with Lara Sendim is a doozy and filled with the kind of hard reset twists that aren’t easy to get away with. That Paulo manages such confident rug pulls without sacrificing logic or storytelling is championship-level work…and it’s his first feature-length film. The solution to The Body is so easy yet impossible to predict at the outset that it leaves the viewer feeling like they’ve helped to figure out a deliciously complex mystery instead of being cruelly cheated by an unsolvable riddle.
There’s been an accident on the road near the county morgue. A night watchman was hit by a car, and witnesses say he ran into the street as if he were running away from something. The police are called in to investigate, including Inspector Jaime Peña (José Coronado, The Vault), and through security footage, he determines that the man was spooked by something. They also discover that Mayka Villaverde’s (Belén Rueda) body has vanished. Ultra-rich and not a well-liked member of high society, Mayka died suddenly and left behind her younger husband, Álex (Hugo Silva), as her beneficiary.
While her death wasn’t so suspicious at first, the fact that her body is now gone does raise eyebrows. Could Álex have stolen the body to avoid an autopsy that would have proven he had something to do with his wife’s death? We know Álex has more secrets than he is telling the police, secrets he tries to hide as Inspector Peña questions him further. Is it possible Mayka knew her husband was plotting against her and is framing him from beyond the grave…or maybe Mayka isn’t dead at all, and she’s still alive, working one of her devious schemes to trap more people in her wicked web.
The genius in Paulo’s storytelling is how he presents you with a roster of possible suspects and then eliminates them one by one, only to shuffle the deck and give you some reason to suspect them all over again. No one is truly innocent here, and to trust someone is your first mistake and ultimate downfall. If you can figure out the endgame of The Body before it’s revealed, I applaud you because I was in the dark almost to the final moments. When the curtain is pulled back, a picture of a storyline staring you in the face the entire time is revealed. Paulo and his excellent cast have just been cleverly directing your attention elsewhere.
The Body is a wonderfully fun movie, filled with enough spooky settings and shivery bits that you’ll reconsider watching it in complete darkness…even though that’s how it is best enjoyed. The performances are ace, especially Rueda, who I’ve now seen play several different archetypes in these Spanish thrillers and scores high marks in each one. Paulo has a Netflix crime thriller series, The Innocent, that is supposedly very good, and I’ll be adding that to my queue while I patiently wait for his next intricately crafted puzzle to solve. Until then, you have time to find The Body and catch up on his other work.