Director: Alberto Rodriguez.
Screenplay: Rafael Cobos, Alberto Rodriguez.
Starring: Javier Gutiérrez, Raúl Alévaro, Antonio de la Torre, Nerea Barros, Salva Reina, Jesús Castro, Manolo Solo.

“This place swallows you up”

In 2014, just before he won a leading Actor Oscar, Matthew McConnaughey was at the height of one of the biggest career turnarounds. It was a time that became gleefully known as the “McConnaisance” and one of the major projects that he was involved in was HBO’s television series, True Detective. It’s a surprise then that more people didn’t pay attention to Alberto Rodriguez’s Spanish thriller, Marshland. That said, it was a huge hit in its native Spain and while it made a brief arrival on the film circuit with many critics lavishing praise on it, it still seemed to disappear fairly quickly. It’s a shame as this is a dark, murder mystery that’s thoroughly deserving of a wider audience and shares many similarities with the aforementioned TV show. 

Plot: In 1980, in the marshlands of the Spanish deep South, Homocide Detectives Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) and Pedro (Raúl Alévaro) are brought together to investigate a series of brutal murders of adolescent girls in a remote part of the country. They are led onto the path of a serial killer who for years has terrorized a community in the shadow of a general disregard for women deeply rooted in a past of misogyny.

Alberto Rodriguez’s Marshland plays out like many American serial killer thrillers. As mentioned, it shares many similarities in its structure and tone to that of the widely acclaimed True Detective. It has the same deliberate pace; the same downbeat tone and the same mismatched, psychologically tormented detectives that put aside their differences in order to do their job. What benefits Marshland greatly, are the two excellent central performances from Javier Gutiérrez and Raúl Alévaro whose very different ideologies lead to a suspicion of each other which lends the film another level of intrigue where, as a viewer, you’re left constantly wondering what the next piece of the puzzle will reveal. Despite the intrigue, however, there’s a simplicity to the film that’s deceptive – such is the attention and focus on mood and composition. This is a very meditative police procedural that spends as much time exploring its setting as it does the characters. Set in 1980, Rodriguez isn’t afraid to explore a sociopolitical theme and blur the lines between fascism and liberalism. This is a huge undercurrent between our two detectives and how they conduct their investigation in a post-Franco society where the fear and paranoia that Franco created still permeates the country, long after his death.

Beautifully shot by cinematographer Alex Catalán there’s much to admire on a visual level as well with some stunning overhead shots of the Spanish landscape and the sun-bleached rural region lends the film a desaturated look that’s not unlike something that David Fincher would pull together. At 1 hour 44 mins, the film is certainly not overlong but it does feel longer than it is. Don’t get wrong, though, this isn’t a criticism. It’s only to point out that there’s a dense and meticulous attention to detail that makes for a very rewarding mystery. It’s in no rush to reveal anything and it’s moody, brooding atmosphere is captured expertly. My criticisms of this film are minor but there is one that shares the same issue I had with True Detective; I wasn’t entirely convinced by the reveal. It’s one of those whodunnits where it’s nigh on impossible to work out for yourself. There’s simply not enough clues that pertain to a particular person which left me a little frustrated. That said, this mystery is more about the journey than the destination and on that note it’s hugely effective.

For anyone that’s a fan of the serial-killer sub-genre and it’s worthy inclusions like True Detective, Se7en or Zodiac then Marshland will not disappoint. It’s abundant with style and atmosphere and another one of those European films where your left feeling satisfied with the commitment you’ve afforded it.

Mark Walker

Trivia: Some frames of the film are based on photographs of Atín Aya, whose work impressed the filmmakers when they knew his work in a retrospective exhibition.

25 Responses to “Marshland”

  1. This sounds good. Never actually caught on to True Detective but am by no means averse to it. And anything that bears a reference to the work of David Fincher becomes automatically more important on my list haha

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This was in my top 20 or 30 films a couple of years back. I think the comparison with season one of True Detective is spot on – the landscape and the overall look of both works are similar, plus obviously you’ve got the two detectives working together here. A subtle slow-burner.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I vaguely remember you mentioning this a while back. In fact, you’re the only blogger I’ve heard say anything about it at all. Solid film, though. I really dug this. Although, I wasn’t overly impressed with the reveal, there’s was still plenty of other things going on here.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds like a fascinating film. Unfortunately where I live it can be very difficult to track down films in languages other than English (only place that properly stocked them and classic film closed down a few years ago), but this one definitely seems to be worth the extra effort to track down a copy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you mean. Foreign cinema can often be a bit more difficult to get your hands on but if you get a hold of this then it’s worth the effort. It’s a slow-burner but all the better for it.
      Thanks for dropping in and reading. I hope you manage to hunt this one down.


  4. Excellent analysis my friend. I loved this at a film fest a year or so ago, bloody amazing to look at. It honestly puts sooooo many Hollywood movies to shame really. Reading this means I need a rewatch!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Slow does not have to mean it’s boring (although boring films do tend to be slow as well). I like it when a good movie takes it’s time to tell a story. I’ve heard so much about it; I really ought to find this. Yup, I love both True Detective and the movie, Zodiac. I haven’t seen Se7en yet!!!


    • If you love True Detective and Zodiac then this film is for you, man. It shares so many similarities with those two. It may be slow but it’s also very assured filmmaking. Thanks for dropping by and reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What do you think of True Detective 2?

    Liked by 1 person

    • To be honest, I didn’t finish Season 2. I watched the first 3 episodes and then I never went back to it. I was enjoying it but it was very slow. Much slower than the first season. It is one I’ll go back to, though.


      • Haha that is funny because I had exactly the same experience, with an exception that I repeated it twice – I watched the first e episodes last year and then once again this year and never saw more of it…

        Yes, it’s slow, even with charismatic characters like these it wasn’t as impressive as the first season. For me it felt slightly… self-repetitive.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I think a lot of people didn’t take to the second season as much as the first. Hopefully, that’s something that can be remedied with the forthcoming third season. I do like like how they’re treating them as stand-alone stories those though.


      • Maybe. For me the first season is something completely unique. After a certain tender age, there aren’t so many ways to impress a person or change even slightly the way of thinking, but TD 1 managed to do that to me.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah it also helped that it came at a time when McConaughey was on fire. Almost a treat to see such a huge Hollywood star on the small screen.


      • Right! Woody H. too. Did you do any write up about them?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, Woody as well. I don’t do write-up’s of Tv stuff. I’ve often considered it but they’re just too vast to condense. It’s tempting but it’s a big commitment.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m all about dark mystery, especially when it really hooks me. There’s nothing quite like it.


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