A Filmmaker's Guide to 'Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil' (Netflix Original Film)
Creating the Atmosphere for Period Drama Horror/Fantasy
(In order to get the most out of this article, it is recommended that you watch the film Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil beforehand at least once over).
This was an unusual Spanish film and it was recommended to me by someone a while back, so I added it to my Netflix List. I hadn't actually watched it until a week before I made this article, and I watched it about three times since, just to get a feel for the film and to make sure I was writing everything down correctly.
I decided to concentrate on exactly what made this a good film for studying Period Drama Horror/Fantasy, and when we say this we mean a horror film set in the distant past and probably more than a century before our own time. There are many different things that we can definitely say are part of the Period Drama genre, but we need to blend this with the Horror/Fantasy atmosphere, and see how they work together to create the tone and mood of the film.
Ah, and when I rate "strength"—I'm rating how well it works in the movie, not how good the technique is. Any technique is a good technique, if you know how to use it properly.
Let's move on to the analysis then, shall we?
Strength = 6/10
A narrative opening, like the one you will encounter in this film, can go two ways—it can make the film sound grand and set your film up for a great storyline, or it can weaken/cheapen the story of the film by giving too much away.
Fortunately enough for this film, it really establishes the faustian themes of the opening. The Dante's Inferno quotation fit quite well, but also made it slightly cheesy to listen to. I don't know whether using the same quote for hell as literally ever other film that depicts hell is a good idea. If you watch say As Above, So Below, they use the same quote. But the voice saying the quotation did make all that more of a difference; it was dramatic rather than cheesy—so I will say it was a good idea to use it.
We have some really good animations that reflect the Period Drama we're about to see and there's an excellent sense of this god-fearing atmosphere that moves around whilst you listen to this story.
Unfortunately for this film, the narrative opening is a bit long, and can lose some viewers along the way. So I would recommend that if you're making a narrative opening, to keep it a little shorter than this one, because well, it is a bit long. The main problem with the length is that it can make the film seem boring and lose the interest of the viewer through it.
However, if you want to watch how lengthy narrative openings can really make a film seem epic, then you probably want to watch something like Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and see how it's really done.
Strength = 7/10
In the opening scene to the actual film, we get some pretty good content when it comes to depicting that really strange Period Drama atmosphere of the poor, rural, and vagrant. Initially, we have the fog and fire—the fog is strong and then there's torches, lanterns and various pieces of fire dotted around the frame to light up that part of the set but leave the rest in the mist. It allows you to see only what it wants you too, setting up some of the themes of deception in the film.
We then have the trees. Most of the trees are either entirely or mostly barren in this film. It symbolizes poor vegetation, and the poverty of the land as they are unable to look after their agriculture. It also allows the atmosphere to become more "dead," as without leaves and without water, the trees tend to shrivel up and die. This is why they look the way they do in the film.
We also get another theme established in the opening—this theme is religion. This is done by the amount of crosses that you see in the opening that are littered around the set. They are everywhere, which gives the audience a feel to how religious this small town is, and more importantly, how they feel about heaven and hell. This will prove very important when the story progresses towards the Devil. There is also a priest in the opening scene which shows us that there was an obvious respect for the town's church by the people living there. Whether this is a positive respect or a flat-out fear is not known. But both are apt contenders.
We have a scene where prisoners are about to die, via firing squad and again, we see the priest offering them some kind of forgiveness for their crimes. But, we then have one man who escapes and turns into the Devil. This is interesting because now we have the storyline established and the Period Drama Horror aspect. The Period Drama aspect is the way in which the scene is given to us and the themes we have already discussed and the Horror is the fact that now, the Devil has entered the story.
The Town as a Setting
Strength = 5/10
The use of this town as a setting is interesting, because the town itself is so dark and dreary that it would be difficult not to call this a horror film. It uses very similar tropes to the town depicted in The Woman in Black (2012), and has even a similar "curse" of somewhere that is forbidden. What we see though, is somewhere that is dedicated to agriculture, but the trees and plants are barren. We see somewhere that is dedicated to keeping their children safe, but more than one child almost dies. We see a god-fearing town but the people in it are driven by money and wealth to perform heinous crimes against each other. What we see is a town of hypocrisies. This sets the scene for everything else to take place, but if overused, it can make your horror film sound slightly more predictable than you want it too.
We then have the outer part of the town as a setting, which is the pathways leading up to the forge. What we can see here are swamps, rivers, crosses and graves, some traps are set and various other things that would be interesting to know the reason for in a film of this topic. There are also warning signs literally everywhere, with spikes on the doors and shovels/rakes mounted to the sides of the path. All of these are parts of the symbolism for the blacksmith.
What we initially think is that this is to stop people getting into the forge's place. But, when you really watch the film, it's actually to stop people getting out. This is done quite cleverly and has some reason to make us believe that the forge is a bad person, but instead it becomes the opposite effect by the end of the film. It's clever but unfortunately, as the story progresses, it is predictable. If used, I would say one or two of these techniques would be good, but as many as this can prove to be over-the-top.
The Young Girl (Usue)
There is some fair character symbolism in this film, and there are good sides and bad sides to the way in which they are portrayed. First of all, we're going to look at the girl who gets taken by the Devil. The symbolism for her character is the doll. The doll is ripped in half and this foreshadows how half of her goes to hell and half of her remains on earth when she asks for her mother.
The character symbolism isn't very strong and seems to be a bit obvious—but I don't think that they could do very much else with the character. I would've liked to see more than one symbol for more than one aspect of her character, but the movement of the doll representing where she would go was better than the actual symbolism itself.
First of all, we get that part where the doll is ripped in half, and the half of the head is thrown over the forge's gate. This obviously foreshadows that the girl will go into the forge's house later on in the film.
The blacksmith obviously has his own work that symbolizes him, it is dotted around his own house. This is not only a piece of character symbolism, but can give us something to do with the story if we were to look close enough. But the biggest piece of symbolism for his character is, in fact bells. Bells are part of his character symbolism and they are present throughout the story.
The first way in which we see them is when the priest mentions that he built the church bell, the second time is when he uses the bell to control the Devil, and the third time is when he actually finds the church bell. The last and final time we get bells is when he's carrying it on his back into hell—he wouldn't be carrying it if he didn't need it. The fact that he requires it must mean it is an important part of his character.
Bad Practices in the Film
There are a number of bad practices in this film that you probably want to avoid doing at any cost. These include:
- Cliché dialogue
I don't know whether this is because I watched it dubbed into English from Spanish, but it doesn't look like the English version was translated correctly because the script can't be that badly written. There were a number of lines where I could predict what the other person's reply would be to the word. Sometimes, it got a bit too cliché.
- Hack-job endings
The ending to this film is terrible, especially when this film has advertised itself as a horror film. One of the things that is a feature of most horror films is that it leaves an open ending. This film leaves an open ending, but again—it does not terrify you, it does not make you want another film, which explains the open ending and it definitely does not thrill you or scare you. The ending to this film is a bit rushed and a bit nonsensical. I would avoid doing something like this in your next project
- Over-the-top symbolism
Sometimes, the thematic symbolism can be a bit too much. Just watch the scene when they all go to church, except Usue. The symbolism of religion inside the church is a bit too much, especially for a town that seems to have little money and where everything is really about war and agriculture. The church looks a more Renaissance Chapel than vagrant warlords. It is a downside to the theme, so I would avoid these continuity errors.
All in all, I would rate this film's effort a 5/10 because of its lack of audience awareness in how it portrays some of its symbolism. But, I would rate it a 6/10 for fantasy value—it is a fun, and sometimes even darkly comedic film to watch. I think it is falsely advertising the film when it sells itself as part of the horror genre.