[Note: If you found this page while searching for a review of the Chen Kaige film also titled The Promise, you may find that article here.]
Remember that rash of thrillers from the early 90's all based around the "Psycho [insert subject of your choice here] From Hell" theme? There was the psycho tenant from hell Pacific Heights, the psycho roommate from hell Single White Female, the psycho cop from hell Unlawful Entry, the psycho nanny from hell The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, and a host of others. Obviously, this particular sub-genre extends much further back, all the way to Psycho itself and beyond, but for some reason, perhaps due largely to the blockbuster success of 1987's psycho mistress from hell Fatal Attraction, a whole spate of movies along the same lines came out at nearly the same time. Some parts of Europe must be really slow to keep up with Hollywood trends because now, at least a decade late, the tepid Spanish thriller The Promise (La Promesa) attempts to jump on the bandwagon with… well, another psycho nanny from hell. The difference this time is that instead of a sexually charged young hottie like Rebecca DeMornay we get a more traditional matronly type of nanny played by Carmen Maura. Color me disappointed.
A prolific and respected actress in Spain, Maura may not be well known to American audiences beyond a handful of early Almodovar films. In The Promise she plays a dowdy housewife whose uncaring and abusive husband finally drives her to murder. An extremely superstitious and obsessive compulsive woman ("All you do is clean and pray," her husband declares), Gregoria begs all the saints in heaven (every one of which she seems to have a personal relationship with) for forgiveness before setting off for a new life and new identity in the countryside. Renaming herself Cecilia, she soon stumbles into a job as nanny for a precocious problem child infamous for driving off all of his previous caregivers. Nonetheless, Cecilia and the boy instantly bond, and eventually her love for him grows into a compulsion to "protect" him from all the evil influences in the world, including his own parents, who just aren't worthy enough in Cecilia's eyes to raise such a precious angel.
The film by Héctor Carré would have you believe that it's a character study about a woman driven to insanity by her own obsessions, but really it's just a generic thriller with pretentious ambitions. Filled with cheap shocks, rote genre clichés, and an extremely dumb, utterly predictable ending, for long stretches there isn't anything particularly wrong with the movie but certainly nothing particularly great about it either. The most interesting aspect of the film is its curious insistence on equating religious devotion with dangerous psychosis. In some sectors a running theme like that might be considered daringly subversive, if only it weren't attached to such a dull, thoroughly unexceptional movie.
The DVD packaging from TLA Releasing claims that the movie has a running time of 104 minutes, but the actual disc clocks in at 98 minutes. Likely the transfer is a PAL to NTSC conversion of a foreign video release, which would account for the difference.
The movie is presented at approximately 2.35:1 (it seems closer to 2.30:1 on my screen) with anamorphic enhancement. The video transfer is merely average in all respects. The picture is a little soft but acceptably detailed. Colors are fair but rarely stand out, and flesh tones look pale. Whites in the picture run a bit hot, and black levels do not run deep, leaving the entire image looking slightly washed out.
The DVD contains two Spanish-language sound options, either Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0. Be warned that the disc defaults to the 2.0 option. The movie's sound mix is fairly enveloping, with modest bass and surround activity, but fidelity of the track sounds thin, probably due to PAL speedup.
Garish yellow English subtitles are provided, positioned entirely within the movie image in anamorphic mode. Viewers watching on fixed 2.35:1 front projection screens should have no issues. The translation is mostly coherent, with a few obvious errors along the way.
The 20-minute Making of The Promise featurette contains some behind-the-scenes footage and a couple of scenes that didn't make the final cut, along with the director reiterating a lot of the plot. A theatrical trailer and some random trailers for other releases from TLA are the only other bonus features.
No ROM supplements have been included.
Mediocre film. Mediocre picture. Mediocre sound. Mediocre bonus features. Rent it.