Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Real Friend Is Always There To Lend a Chainsaw

One of the many reasons why I love Toy Story so much is how Woody (that genial and jealous cowboy voiced by Jim Hanks' brother) comes to accept and love the fact that his sole purpose in life is to be there for his master and friend. As kids, we deal with a lot of opposition from parents, siblings, teachers, and classmates, but save for a loyal dog, nobody listens to us with quite the same selfless dedication as our Pound Puppies, baby dolls, prized action figures, or, in the case of today’s film, imaginary friends.
A Real Friend is another 75 minute selection from Spain’s 6 Films to Keep You Awake, a 2006 collection that puts America’s Masters of Horror to the test. Like The Christmas Tale , (the wicked little gem that takes up the flip side of this DVD), it finds a point in childhood where the monsterish meets reality and lets an odd little story unfold with speed.

Quick Plot: Estrella (Nerea Inchausti) is a horror loving bookworm living a lonely existence with her single mother. While Mom Angela (Goya Toledo) works as an efficient, if not overly compassionate nurse, Estrella passes the time chit chatting with pals that bear striking resemblances to Leatherface, Mr. Hyde, Nosferatu, and a few other familiar faces rarely rearing their homicidal heads in 2nd grade classrooms.
All’s fun and adorable until Estrella meets a daybreaking vampire who seems a tad too interested (at least, by our estimation) in her family’s homelife. Is this balding duster-clad pale man another innocent figment of our heroine’s rich imagination? A deeper creation breaking through, or a real life menace from her mother’s mysterious past?
Like The Christmas Tale, A Real Friend is another distinct, somewhat sweet, and slightly disturbing treat that doesn’t wear out its welcome. It presents a neat little premise sold early in the film’s running by fine performances and plenty of empathy for a young character most horror fans can easily relate to by nudging their inner children awake.

That being said, A Real Friend never really grabs the reins to steer the audience in a clear direction. We’re fully invested in Estrella, but filmmaker Enrique Urbizu doesn’t really seem confident in whose narrative voice should be pushing the final act. We want to learn more about Angela’s connection to the increasingly unsettling villain, but we also need Estrella’s personal posse for the big finale. Instead of finding a fluid method of connecting these threads, Urbizu instead veers off to follow a third character we barely know. In the end, we never even find out exactly how our two leads feel about the bloody climax, or--more importantly--just how much control they had over its outcome.
High Points
I don’t know what’s in school lunch milk or pre-natal vitamins from the early 1990s, but following both this and The Christmas Tale, it seems Spain is the new breeding ground for effortlessly sensitive and sympathetic child actors
Much like The Christmas Tale, A Real Friend finds a one-of-a-kind, yet somehow familiar voice in reintroducing the horror icons from our past into a very different and much kinder--or is it?--new world.
Middle Points
The closing scene initially felt like a letdown and a cheat, but the longer it’s brewed in my head, the more oddly disturbing it seems to be for its strange implications on what may actually be going on inside Estrella’s mind
Low Points
Despite an extremely likable protagonist, I felt oddly detached from A Real Friend and I’ve yet to fully identify why. Perhaps it was the aforementioned character switch or lack of a grounded reality, but I ultimately found myself watching this film from a distance instead of actively engaging in its story.
Lessons Learned
Nothing ruins a day at the beach more than finding your personality-less teacher misguidedly putting the moves on your hot mom
Wine is not a drink
If you’re going to spend most of your time with imaginary friends, do yourself a favor and arm them well

I’ve already pledged my Buy support to the 6 Films series, and though I didn’t enjoy A Real Friend with quite the same level of enthusiasm as The Christmas Tale, it’s still an intriguing and thoroughly different film from your typical Hollywood studio offering. I’ll toss out a disclaimer to say I was a tad too tired while watching A Real Friend (and growing more and more antsy after holding onto the Netflix DVD for over 2 weeks) and may have been too low in my post-holiday spiritless daze to fully appreciate the image of Leatherface fighting the urge to pull a little girl’s braids. The film isn't perfect, nor is it revolutionary or the mark of a visionary honing his craft. It is, however, something new, charming, and more than worthy of your 75 minutes. 


  1. Ahhh why does the girl on the front look exactly like Isabelle Fuhrman from Orphan??!

  2. If you want to be nitpicky, it's more that Isabelle Fuhrman looks like the little girl in A Real Friend! I actually think that this is pretty awful cover. A Real Friend is in no way an evil kid film, but the photo sells it as a colorized Bad Seed that has something to do with vampires.

    On the other hand, the distorted little closeup of Esther is kind of genius, especially AFTER you see the film and know why there's something so off about her looks.

  3. Haha yeah I pay no attention to dates usually whoops! I was just thinking about how much I loathe misleading Deadline and the one they just changed has Brittnay Murphy in a car...she doesn't drive the entire movie. Frickin lame cakes.

  4. A misleading cover is almost as bad a spoilering cover. When I think of how many VHS tapes I rented between 1989-1993 solely based on their elaborately monstrous cover art, it makes me want to use easy-to-learn voodoo to raise Brittany Murphy from the dead and deploy her out to do my bidding, demanding $2 back from every bad movie with a good artist. But that seems to complicated so instead I'll just sigh.

  5. Great review and I second your thoughts for the most part. I kinda can't remember a lot about this movie except for bits and pieces for whatever burnout reason. I did really enjoy it, but not nearly as much as A Christmas Tale. It does get a little lost in the narrative and has no clear direction, but still, it is hard not to enjoy it for what it is and I too love the foreign take on American properties.

  6. I wonder how the filmmaker ever got away with Leatherface without being sued. That in itself is quite amazing.

    The film is all sorts of adorable, but just doesn't have a clear enough agenda to really be as memorable as The Christmas Tale. Still, it's the perfect companion to that film. Spain's take on adolescence is just darn awesome.