The Hidden Face (La cara oculta) is a Spanish thriller directed by Andrés Baiz and is his second feature-length film. His first, the Columbian crime drama Satan (Satanás 2007), won awards for best actor and best film at the Festival of Monte Carlo. The Hidden Face stars Clare Lago, who was nominated for a Goya (Spanish Oscar) for her performance in the acclaimed Carol’s Journey (2002); Quim Gutiérrez, who won a Goya for his performance in Dark Blue Almost Black (Azuloscurocasinegro 2006); and Martina Garciá, who starred in Sebastián Cordero’s award-winning Rage (Rabia 2009).
The film’s powerful opening sees Adrián (Gutiérrez) watching a video his girlfriend Belén (Lago) has recorded to tell him she is leaving. Little does Adrián know that Belén, in a ploy to test his affections, has locked herself away in a hidden room inside the house so that she can observe his reactions. Unluckily Belén, as anyone who has seen the trailer will know, becomes a prisoner inside her secret room as she loses the one key that enables her release. Once Belén realises she cannot get out, she becomes increasingly distressed, which escalates when Adrián embarks on a new relationship with the beautiful Fabiana (García) and she is forced to watch. Will she waste away in the hidden room?
The hidden room within the film is what makes this film so innovative. Hidden rooms have been used in other films before such as David Fincher’s Panic Room (2002) where the room is used as a safe space to hide from criminals. In Edward Dmytryk’s 1949 film Obsession (released in the US as The Hidden Room) the room is used as a space for the main character to hide away in order to plot his revenge on his cheating wife. It is also interesting to consider The Hidden Face alongside other Spanish films that feature hidden rooms such as The Orphanage (El orfanato 2007) and Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito 2011).
However, the hidden room is used to different effect in The Hidden Face; the room is used, initially, as a space from which to spy on someone. Belén wants to see if her boyfriend is cheating on her and to test how much he will miss her when he finds her video. The hidden room is not a space that offers protection or to calculate revenge; she only wants the truth. While Vera (Elena Anaya) is locked away against her own will in The Skin I Live In, Belén goes there by her own free will. For Belén, the room that was once an opportunity for truth, turns into her own tomb. After losing the key that enabled her freedom, Belén realises that she is going to die alone in the room that once held so much hope. With food supplies dwindling, her imprisonment becomes increasingly surreal and she desperately needs help, and fast.
Seeing Belén fade away in her self-made prison asks the audience to sympathise with the character. Belén’s pain is evident as she watches her boyfriend with another woman yet we know this is a result of her own foolishness. Repeated close-ups of Belén’s face show her heartache and anger that she cannot get out. The majority of the film takes place in two main settings: the house and the hidden room. By not leaving the house, a sense of claustrophobia is created; the film tries to position the audience so they are also trapped inside the house and inside the hidden room with Belén. Low-key lighting contributes to the sense of claustrophobia as there is no natural sunlight going into the hidden room, which causes Belén to feel more and more trapped inside this room. With Fabiana as Belén’s only means of freedom and her main cause of pain, the audience is asked to sympathise with Belén’s situation as she is stuck in her own tomb and anticipation increases when we find out her opportunity to get out relies on someone else.
The film plays with issues of trust; if Belén had trusted her boyfriend, perhaps she would not have been trapped in the room. Yet the film also questions this very idea and the ending will stay with you long after the film has finished; it makes you ask yourself: what would I do in that situation? And many may not be able to answer that question. The Hidden Face offers a clever counterpart to previous hidden room films and is highly recommended viewing.
The Hidden Face is released on DVD 26th May 2014 via Metrodome.
An earlier version of the review appeared in Diegesis CUT TO [space] issue 6 2013.