Pedro Almodovar leaves all trace of his back catalogue behind, in directing this adaptation of Tarantula, written in 2009 by French writer Thierry Jonquet, and enters the movie world inhabited by David Cronenberg. Unusually for Almodovar, the movie's main protaganist is a man - eminent plastic surgeon Ledgard, played by Antonio Banderas, joining up with the director for the first time since 1990's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down, in which he played a mental patient who kidnaps a woman and keeps her captive until she returns his love. Some similarities therefore, as the subject of Ledgard's experiment is the strangely submissive Vera, played by Elena Anaya, who is imprisoned in Ledgard's home whilst he lovingly re-creates her skin. He enlists the help of complicit housekeeper Marilia, played by Almodovar regular Marisa Paredes. Putting professional ethics aside, Ledgard foregoes his career to give his experiment exclusivity and we are intrigued as we wonder who this mysterious patient is, and what it is that binds them together.
The first hour of this movie is very satisfactory, as the veil of respectability is drawn away from Ledgard to reveal a dark past and a sociopathic nature. We find out that his wife was having an affair with the housekeeper's psychotic son Zeca (Roberto Alamo), and when discovered their escape leads to an horrific car accident in which she is hideously burned. There are echoes of Daphne du Maurier throughout the movie, no more so than when his wife sees a reflection of her disfigured face in a window and, in horror, flings herself out, comitting suicide. So who is Vera, and what happened to her? Regrettably we find out as an astonishing, and frankly unnecessary plot twist rears its ugly head, beginning with a back story about Ledgard's daughter Norma, who loses her mind through a combination of her mother's accident, and a sexual liaison in a garden, which Ledgard wrongly perceives as rape. When the identity of Vera is revealed, the audience at the screening I was at drew breath. There was a collective gasp, and then, I'm afraid, some suppressed laughter.
Audiences will understandably become disenfranchised by this revelation, which is difficult to forgive. On reflection, there were enough variants in the plot already to show the causal effect on Ledgard and to reveal what lies beneath the surface. It would have been better if Vera's identity had remained a mystery. Its a shame that the plot twist subtracts so heavily from the movie, as this is a 'truly macabre suspense thriller' (courtesy Peter Bradshaw The Guardian), with a superb use of texture. It is beautifully photographed (Jose Luis Alcaine) and benefits from an excellent soundtrack and good performances throughout.
Review written by John Franklin : September 2011back...