Mateo (Luis Tosar) is a successful artist working on his most important sculpture, commissioned by the local Cathedral of Santiago, Gallacia (northern Spain).
Mateo is estranged from his loony wife Carmen (Elvira Minguez) & rather abusive to a son, Jacobo (David Alvarez), who has inherited his father's artistic temperament.
Mom gets a gun & kills Mateo in front of Jacobo. We then see Jacobo as a young man (Juan Diego Botto), returning to his native Santiago after having been raised far away in Buenos Ares.
His first duty is to look in on his schizophrenic mother in the nuthouse, whom he had long been led to believe was dead all these years.
So begins the Goya Award winning When the Bell Chimed 13; aka, Thirteen Chimes; or 13 Churses (Trece Campanadas; aka, 13 Badaladas, 2002).
The title alludes to the Jacobo's memory of the terrible incident in childhood, when the Cathedral chimed midnight & a gunshot was the thirteenth chime.
He's angry to have so long been kept in the dark that his mother still lived. But it was her own idea, protecting him from something she believes can even now harm him.
She is distraught that he has returned to what she persists in regarding a place of danger for him. She tries to explain to him that something horrible will happen if he remains in Santiago.
In the old family residence, he's haunted by his feared father, who visits him as a ghost or in a dream, & insists he finish the sculpture left incomplete when he was killed. Jacobo begins to work in the web-festooned art loft or barn.
He permits his father to take "possession" of his hands, investing him with his father's sculpting genius so that the great work can be completed for a Cathedral.
But the possession deepens cruelly, although there is always the possibility he is becoming crazy like his mother, & there is no haunting.
At the mental hospital, his mother dies horribly & in fear, at the same moment Jacobo is dreaming of the thirteenth chime.
We learn for the first time he takes medication to quieten the noises in his head, so he's indeed schizophrenic. Yet a certain priest believes such mental illnesses are in fact, if only occasionally, caused by outside forces, like evil spirits or possession.
He's off his meds, though, & we the viewers can pretty much take our choice of the rational or the supernatural explanation for Jacobo's condition. This is pure magic realism, intelligently written, perfectly acted, & gorgeously filmed.
The threat of permanent possession by the evil spirit of his father builds to a cresendo, with Jacobo greatly at risk whether or not he's merely delusional. As a true work of magic realism we may never know whether or not any of it is legitimately supernatural. But the full meaning of the 13th Chime, at least, will be revealed with brutal certainty in the twisted conclusion.
Whether viewed as supernatural horror of a psychological thriller, this is a first-rate little film, which is as much about angst as it is terror.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl