A significant part of the content on streaming isn’t in english or produced in America and yet, international films still go largely overlooked. Next time you’re searching through Netflix, why not try a Spanish detective thriller set in the municipality of Baztán?
The Baztán Trilogy is an example of a perfectly fun, average film series. Even if it isn’t a groundbreaking piece of recent Spanish cinema – that would be the stunning Pain & Glory – the films do just enough to stand out in memory, combining dark murders and superstitions. Comprised of The Invisible Guardian (2017), The Legacy of the Bones (2019) and Offering to the Storm (2020), the films follow detective Amaia Salazar (Marta Etura) returning to her hometown of Elizondo to confront murders as well as ghosts of her past. We quickly learn that the region of Baztán has a dark history which, whether Amaia likes it or not, is connected to her family.
The first film, The Invisible Guardian, is the most realistic and the darkest of the trilogy, as dead girls start appearing in the area, all killed in a similar ritualistic way. Baztán’s harsh weather and gruesome murders are an ode to the recent wave of popularity of Scandinavian crime, with the literary likes of Jo Nesbø or Stieg Larsson. The film is a grim, slow-burning mystery in which Amaia and her police colleagues use investigation and forensics rather than guns. It’s not all just expert detective work though, as The Invisible Guardian mixes a little bit of the local mythology into its story. The media nicknames the killer “The Basajaun” after a Basque myth of a yeti-like guardian of the forest, hence also the name of the film. While the film never clearly states whether the Basajaun is real or not, there are certainly some implications to make you think so.
It’s unfortunate that, in hindsight, The Invisible Guardian is the weakest part of the trilogy. Especially as it moves towards the climax, the film starts heavily leaning on its side story – Amaia’s childhood. It’s an uncomfortable look at a dysfunctional, abusive family and one of the most memorable parts of the movie. At the same time, it completely breaks the flow of the race-against-time to catch a dangerous killer, making the reveal feel less than rewarding.
Asking to sit through a weaker movie in order to get to the good stuff may be a lot, but that’s the reality with the sequel, The Legacy of the Bones. If the first film only hinted at supernatural, this one dives head first, starting with a witch ritual set in the 17th century. Not stopping there, we’re soon back in the present day where detective Salazar has to deal with a series of suspicious suicides, all of which seemed to have been signed by Tartallo. That is another Basque myth, a cyclops devouring young ones who dared to stumble into his cave.
The film openly embraces Basque legends, elements of witchcraft and even some Catholic myths. It also delves deeper into Amaia’s past and her abusive relationship with her mother, which is the most eerie part of the franchise as a whole. It’s these short moments of a lost childhood and the consequences it had, when The Legacy of the Bones is able to ramp up horror-like tension, especially for its fantastic finale.
Whereas in the first film Amaia was the sole epicenter of the story, the sequel expands to family relatives such as her husband James (Benn Northover), sister Flora (Elvira Mínguez) and the tarot-reading aunt Engrasi (Itziar Aizpuru). It helps ground the story, give us something to care about, while the conspiracy behind the murders gets increasingly crazier. The Legacy of the Bones is an improvement on the previous one in all aspects, although it still struggles with some pacing issues.
The entire story ends with Offering to the Storm, an impressive two and a half hour finale, released recently on Netflix. The conspiracies run deeper than ever before and Amaia, along with everyone close to her, are in grave danger. The film sets up high stakes, giving her the seemingly impossible task of uncovering the origin of all evil in Baztán. Offering to the Storm slightly eases up on the Basque and catholic mythology, but that doesn’t mean the mysteries are any less strange. Unfortunately, there are a lot of dull spots slowing down the film, making the shocking twists less impactful.
Nonetheless, it provides a satisfactory ending to the trilogy and Amaia’s time in Baztán. All questions answered, watching the characters finally get a moment of relief, it makes the viewer realise how fun it was spending time in this dangerous, slightly surreal world. Be it drenched in rain, the middle of the night, or during a rare sunny day, the valley of Baztán is a wonderful location. Both welcoming and unsettling, there’s a wide range of emotions ready to be conjured up by the filmmakers in this place.
The Baztán Trilogy is a slow-burning crime series, where your patience will be tested. However, the journey’s worth it not only for the engrossing world and characters, but also because of the suspenseful solving of decades old conspiracies. It may not be the best detective story out of Spain, but it’s certainly a good way to pass the afternoon.