Taking “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt” to the extreme, the compact Spanish thriller, “Childish Games” mashes characters’ pasts and presents together, winding their threads tightly until horrifyingly unraveling in the final act.
After the sudden reappearance and suicide of a childhood friend, schoolteacher Daniel (Juan Diego Botto, “Zorro”) and his wife Laura (Barbara Lennie, “The Skin I Live In”) decide to adopt the friend’s unclaimed daughter.
Unlike Chavarrias’ other films, “Childish Games” is a straightforward genre piece. It’s horror through and through with little wiggle room. This works to its advantage, however, as the director’s vision is apparent from the first frame. He wants to scare the viewer. And scare he does.
Aided by deft performances and a chilling atmosphere, “Games” is paranoid even in the quiet moments. As Daniel tears at the seams his talks with adopted daughter Julia (Magica Perez) take on another layer. Could Julia be the reincarnation of Daniel’s long dead almost step-sister, Clara?
But to focus on the answers is to miss the point. This isn’t a movie about resolution, it’s a movie about atmosphere. Taking a page from nightmarish creations like 1973’s “Don’t Look Now” and 1999’s “Audition,” “Childish Games” saves the real horror for last and it wouldn’t be so terrifying if it weren’t for the build-up.
The movie doesn’t do much new. But what it does do, creeping and psychological horror, it does adeptly. Like the excellent Spanish horror “The Baby’s Room,” “Games” has an eye for horror, placing its characters in ungainly positions, twisting them to the breaking point. And when the snap comes, it’s apt to drown out all noise beside it.