The Wasteland (El Paramo) premiered on Netflix this week to give streamers a claustrophobic horror exercise among the many horror offerings on the streaming service. The film which stars Asier Flores as a young boy living in an isolated cabin with his mother (Inma Cuesta) and father (Roberto Alamo) during the 19th-century levels up on atmospheric tension as the family is fighting an invisible enemy they call ‘The Beast.”
The story is very ambiguous in its approach which is leaving streamers with more questions than answers, especially in regards to its ending. That said, this storytelling method might make fans of psychological horror excited.
What exactly happens in The Wasteland? Here is our analysis of this creepy and complicated Netflix film.
What is The Wasteland about?
The film centers on Diego, a child living in a cabin at the edge of nowhere in 19th Century Spain with his mother Lucia and father Salvador.
Throughout the story, a creature is spoken of by the father. In his stories, he warns of a beast that made his sister kill herself. He mentions to Diego that once “The Beast” reveals itself to the person of its choosing, there is no hope for said person.
As the story enters its second act, the father leaves home to find the family of a stranger who entered their home and committed suicide.
And for the rest of the film, Diego and his mother have to survive a nightmare of isolation and paranoia.
Lucia herself begins seeing something in the vastness ahead of her home--which visually looks like an endless wasteland (hence the name). Diego himself cannot see the creature. This is followed by strange manic and hopeless behavior from Lucia that seems to be caused by The Beast itself.
Lucia’s mental state continues to decline as she hints that The Beast is getting closer to the house. She is impatient with Diego and flirts with the idea of drowning herself in a bathtub right in front of him and chopping her hair off.
At one point, we discover the father may have perished as his horse came home frantically without him.
On the final day, Lucia warns that the beast plans to enter their home and she attempts to hang herself before Diego chops her down and ties her to the bed to keep Lucia from hurting herself.
Moments later, the beast does enter and manages to get Diego away from his mother, a beast he still cannot see. Once he reconnects with Lucia, she is at the dinner table with the beast covered by shadow on the other end.
Diego tries to convince his mother to leave the shack with him but she ends up shoving him out the door and locking herself inside with the unseen threat. When he finally manages to get inside, she has already cut herself fatally – but she is still breathing.
The Beast then becomes visible to Diego and instead of being afraid, he picks up a gun and fires the weapon at it. This is followed by Diego putting his mom in a wheelbarrow, getting her out of the house, and burning the home down with the beast inside (or is it?).
The film closes with Diego at the river attempting to give his mother water only to find she has passed away from her wounds. He then lowers her in the water gently and watches her float away. As this happens, he sees the shape of The Beast reflected in the water right in front of him, followed by the same reflection in his eyes.
Diego seems unphased and just gathers himself to walk into the unknown.
The Wasteland explained
Spanish director David Casademunt crafted a visually pleasing film with lush cinematography. Every single shot feels purposeful and crisp to the eye.
The story itself is rather perplexing which is why audiences are confused.
With a film like The Wasteland, there will not be one right answer to its meaning. Some will read this as a metaphor for the pandemic and others might attribute its message to vulnerabilities of mental health. Some might see it as a metaphor for both subjects.
But the screenplay itself was written before the pandemic, which makes one wonder if the pandemic had influences on the story during its 2021 production.
The takeaway we had from the film is that the movie is about Diego overcoming his family’s dysfunctional past and carving a new path for himself. The father has a history of troubles in his family and even leaves home to never return. This leaves Lucia a single mother which eventually breaks her down emotionally and psychologically.
And while Diego is an orphan at the end, he looks the past (or The Beast) in the eye, and overcomes any systemic pressure to be defeated by the monster, and journeys ahead.
It is a complicated movie but one about a child persevering against all odds, even though his dad abandoned him and his mother lost her battle against mental illness.
The Wasteland is now on Netflix.