Five years ago, Claudia (Emma Vilarasau) suffered through the horrific murder of her daughter Angela. But her life, difficult as it is to continue in the wake of tragedy, is about to get a lot worse. One day, her phone rings... and on the other end of the line is a girl's voice, claiming to be Claudia's daughter and in need of help.
The Nameless (original title in Spain: Els sense nom) is about half of an interesting horror/thriller film. Director Jaume Balagueró has the style down pat: The Nameless is very dark and brooding, with disturbing brief shots woven into scenes, and a musical score that's quite good at evoking the atmosphere of impending horror. Story-wise, the film also starts off with what seems like an intriguing narrative of psychological horror, one that evokes Jacob's Ladder in some ways.
Yet by the end, The Nameless doesn't really succeed as either a horror or a psychological suspense film. As far as the horror goes, certainly many of the early scenes are extremely creepy. Looking back, though, they seem gratuitous, as do many of the other shots intended to create a disturbing atmosphere. The horror elements are included in the film, but they don't really build on each other to create an even scarier effect by the end of the film. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm pretty susceptible to scary movies, as I get genuinely creeped out and frightened by a well-done scary scene, but as The Nameless went on, I felt less and less scared. The gruesome events had lost their dramatic punch (another reason for directors to be conservative in how often they play the "horrible mutilated body" card) and the standard jump scare / what's behind the closed door scare weren't enough to fill in for the absence of a compelling storyline that would evoke fear through anticipation and dread.
In terms of psychological suspense, The Nameless is no Jacob's Ladder (or even The Ninth Gate, which The Nameless also resembles in some ways) for the simple reason that it doesn't have a particularly solid plot. It's based on a novel by Ramsey Campbell, which would seem like a great basis for an interesting story, but I suspect here that something may have been lost in the adaptation. There are pieces that could be worthwhile, but they don't seem to add up to a coherent story. The story gathers steam through the first third to half of the film, as Claudia gets pulled back into the tragedy of her daughter's supposed murder and a sympathetic detective turns up clues that all may not be as it seemed. But in retrospect, that's where the film stalled. We follow the protagonists as they follow the trail of a sinister cult involving the "nameless ones" and an unspecified agenda of discovering total evil.
At this point, there are several story threads that are increasingly disconnected from each other. In addition to the cult theory (which does seem to be fabricated out of very little, but we can run with it), we get the involvement of several other characters who ultimately contribute almost nothing to the story. There's the obsessive Toni, who is stalking Claudia, and there's the reporter for a paranormal events tabloid who becomes interested in the events surrounding Claudia and her daughter. Neither contributes much to the development of the plot, apart from making us think there's going to be more of a plot than there ultimately is.
And then there's the ending. After a lot of hysterical lead-in to the climactic scene, including having bad things happen to characters whom we're probably supposed to care about, but in truth aren't really very interested in, we get... what? My guess is that it's an attempt to say something profound about the nature of true evil, or something like that. Whatever it is, it falls flat. I was left mildly puzzled – in the "what's the point?" type of puzzlement, not the "what happened?" kind, since it's clear what the final events are, just not why they're supposed to impress or deeply shock us. The trouble with an ending like this is also that it detracts from the film as a whole; now, looking back, I could see that the elements that seemed most intriguing were essentially pointless, and that the whole thing was more style than substance from the beginning.
The Nameless is presented in its original widescreen theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is anamorphically enhanced. All in all, this dark and visually brooding film looks reasonably good here. Contrast is handled well, which is important with cinematography as interested in shadows and darkness as we get here. Some flaws are noticeable in the image, both speckles and the occasional vertical flaw. The English subtitles are optional.
The audio options are a disappointment here. The original Spanish language track is offered only in a Dolby 2.0, while the dubbed English track gets a more immersive Dolby 5.1 surround track. The 2.0 track is adequate, but it certainly doesn't have the same effectiveness as the 5.1. The Spanish track is still the one that I'd recommend to viewers (I am not a fan of dubbed tracks) but it's unfortunate that we're cheated out of a better sound experience. At least the English subtitles are optional. (I'll note that even though the film's title is in Catalán, all the dialogue is in fact in Spanish.)
The only special features are trailers for Darkness and Cursed.
The Nameless had me intrigued at the beginning, and interested through most of the movie (though its grip on me was definitely loosening as the film carried on); it's in the contrived, rather peculiar ending that the film finally lost my interest. It was watchable, but ultimately disappointing. There's ample atmosphere in this film, so horror/thriller fans who want to soak up the dark and creepy style will probably enjoy it. Just don't expect it to deliver on its promise of an intriguing plot. Rent it.