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Review: Ropes – “Some surprisingly satisfying emotional beats”

Directed by Jose Luis Montesinos (Cat Killer) and starring Paula Del Rio (Retribution), Miguel Angel Jenner (Boy Missing), Jordi Aguilar (The Bar) and Spy the dog, Spanish horror Ropes aka Cuerdas aka Prey is released as a digital download on iTunes, Amazon and Google on the 19th of November.

Ropes begins with Miguel (Jenner) bringing his paraplegic daughter Elena (Del Rio) back home. After a car accident in which she was driving and her sister died, Elena is paralysed from the neck down, only able to move her right hand a little bit, and in an electric wheelchair. Her dad and a neighbour (Aguilar) have overhauled the house, but not for her. Miguel has also got Elena, Athos, a highly trained service dog, who can open all the doors and operate all the lights in the house by pulling on the newly installed ropes now controlling them.

Deeply depressed and suicidal, Elena wants nothing but for her life to be over, but when Athos is bitten by a bat and goes rabid (which I learned recently from the brilliant Ologies podcast episodes on bats is a common misconception) and kills her father, Elena finds herself alone and in a fight for her life against a lethal canine helper with more control over her environment than her.

Paula Del Rio is very good in a challenging lead role and as well as Elena also plays her deceased sister Vera, who haunts and taunts Elena Stephen-King-style every step of the way. Extremely bitter and unlikeable from the off, making us come around to cheering for Elena over the genius dog is not an easy undertaking, but Del Rio plays her part with a real-feeling tenacity and pain that wins us over during the course of the film alongside some internal confrontation and introspection regarding the accident and her relationship with her sister.

This makes for a good, earned character arc, but not for a particularly entertaining high-concept genre movie. The pace of Ropes is lacking any tension and snap, with Athos being easily vanquished for the majority of the running time with a quick toot on a dog whistle and then staying outside for long periods of time, only rearing his snarling head for three short sequences that are lacking any gore, suspense or punch.

Spy the dog is such a good boy and deserves more, not even getting to properly terrorise Elena via the titular ropes that seemed to be what the film was going to hinge on but are again frustratingly underused. Leaning into this element and the speed and mobility of the incapacitated Elena’s foe would have injected the needed pace boost this lethargic Cujo lacks.

Ropes does have some surprisingly satisfying emotional beats – and a brief appearance from a killer ferret – but it feels like a promise unfulfilled.

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