From the opening moments of House of Sweat and Tears, as the camera focuses in on a religious cult leader known simply as "She", you know there's not going to be a lot of light or moments of happiness in a tale (based on a supposed true story) that is about as dour as they come.
Certainly not a horror film that was made to be consumed with jump scares or frights in mind, Spanish director Sonia Escolano's tale is one more concerned with exploring the horrors of religious brain washing and the power charismatic leaders can have over their followers, as we are placed in a nameless country with an unnamed cult as their faith is tested by a new addition to the group that confronts their previous learnings.
Everything in Escolano's film takes its time, it's a slow burn experience with a scattering of in your face violence that will shock and unease in equal measure and credit to the up and coming filmmaker for establishing a mood and atmosphere that many such similar films fail to establish.
This slow burn goes hand in hand with a mysterious bunch of main characters, a collection of lost souls, some of whom share an unshakable devotion to their leader, while others share a more questioning faith that is being tested by She's seemingly more outlandish requests and behaviors that in turn drives a wedge in the group.
It's a solid component of Tears, with mystery seeping out of the pours of most scenes but it also helps contribute to the fact that Tears is a rather cold and sometimes lifeless affair, emotions being kept under wraps by the very style and conception that it aims for.
At just over 90 minutes in length, Escolano's film does feel long and with not one main character to truly latch onto emotionally it can feel like a draining exercise at times, that also feels dark and gloomy throughout thanks to Pepe de la Rosa's dingy cinematography and Carlos Ruiz and Javier Angel Morillo's simplistic yet glum score.
These elements are at times perfectly suited to the tale that Tears tells but as a cinematic experience it also holds back Escolano's occasionally captivating tale back and one can't help but feel this mostly unpolished affair could've done with some more cinematic flair and invention, especially when the entirety of the film takes place almost solely in a dim compound of lifeless origins.
Final Say -
Asking some interesting questions about blind faith and religious brainwashing, House of Sweat and Tears is a solid attempt by Escolano at creating a moody and realistic horror, let down by some lifeless production designs and a lack character development.
2 ½ cut feet out of 5
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