By Julian Feldberg (Rochester, NY)
I was shocked to find out that The Heroes of Evil was director Zoe Berriatua’s first feature film. Despite its low budget, this movie shows that all it takes is passion and talent to provide an emotional and compelling story, and, in my opinion, it didn’t get the recognition it deserves.
Just by reading Netflix’s synopsis, you may think it’s just another high school bullying story with a darker tone, but that is just one part of the bigger picture. Berriatua explains in an interview that he wants to explore the transition between adolescence and adulthood, touching subjects such as sex, morals, violence and everything a teenager should learn in that phase of their lives. In spite of this, Berriatua doesn’t give all of the answers concerning the plot or the characters’ decisions, resulting in a perturbing artwork, making the viewer feel disconcerted or uncomfortable at times.
The story follows Aritz, Sara and Esteban, three teenagers brought together by a common denominator: they are young and they are asocial. A friendship rapidly surges surrounded by alcohol, drugs and violence among them. This spiral makes them consider their lives as revenge towards anyone who humiliated them in one way or another, and they won’t be able to escape it. Even though we don’t get much of the characters’ backstories, we can easily perceive each role among our protagonists. Aritz wants to fit in since the first day of class, and we can feel his struggle with the same issue until the end of the movie, when he still feels rejected by those who he thought were his closest friends. Esteban, in contrast, knows who he is and, even though he is a misfit, he doesn’t share Aritz’s insecurities, appearing as more mature and ‘down-to-earth’. Last, Sara is not a “typical girl”, her humiliators refer to her as ‘butch’ all the time and, as we can easily see in the Toys scene, this has been recurrent throughout her life. She has a strong personality and constantly tries to suppress her feelings or “girly attitudes”.
As well as doing a great job portraying moments of violence, the movie also has its fair share of emotional and exciting ones, which let you connect with the characters on different levels. For instance, I would compare the last act with The Joker (2019), in the sense that I can acknowledge the horrific actions the character is doing, but I understand why he is doing them and how he is feeling at the moment.
Although the message of the movie is somewhat clear by the end, I believe there are other key ideas that can be taken from it. First, knowing our limits. Teenagers usually believe they can deal with any situation all by themselves; however, sometimes the solution is out of reach, and asking someone else for help is the right thing to do. In Esteban’s case, you can see him look for aid, but it’s too late to make a difference. Second, understanding the consequences of our actions and that the decisions we make are not forced upon us or imposed at birth, we forge your own paths.
Heroes of Evil occurs in a world drenched in gray and muted colors, only using saturation in significant moments, for instance, Sara’s dress or toys. This creates an atmosphere, along with the classical music, of a “calm before the storm” sensation: you are always expecting something to happen, but are unsure of what the next move is going to be or when. The lack of music for most of the film gives place to some eerie moments, keeping you at the edge of your seat, mostly in the second and third acts.
Nevertheless, the movie has its flaws, which, in my opinion, don’t affect the overall experience much but have to be acknowledged. In some scenes, interpretations can be somewhat overacted, making the viewer disconnect for a moment, maybe because the choice of the actors that portray the protagonists hasn’t been the best. Emilio Palacios (Esteban) easily stands out over the rest with his interpretation, while Beatriz Medina’s (Sara) and Jorge Clemente’s (Aritz) interpretations can come out as exaggerated at moments. This is significant especially in emotional scenes, such as the ending. Apart from this, as the story transforms into a spiral of destruction mixed with a pinch of sexual identity and the need for affection, the director slowly loses the main focus of the story and develops less credible and extreme situations sometimes (an example of this would be that nobody seems to be “good”, everyone is “bad”).
If you ask me, taking into consideration this is Berriatua’s first feature film and the low budget he had to make it a reality, I would say he came up with a great result. The dialogue feels realistic, the story is intense, and I would describe the overall plot as a “rollercoaster of emotions”, making me feel nervous, excited, moved, or anxious several times during the film. I wouldn’t say this movie is for everyone, but, having said this, I surely believe it deserves more recognition than it got when it came out.