Director – Alex de la Iglesia, Screenplay – Alex de la Iglesia & Jose Guerricaechevarria, Producers – Carolina Bang, Alex de la Iglesia, Mercedes Gamero, Mikel LeJarza & Kiko Martinez, Photography – Angel Amoros, Music – Carlos Riera Andreu & Joan Valent, Visual Effects Supervisor – Curro Munoz, Special Effects Supervisor – Juan Ramon Molina, Production Design – Jose Luis Arrizabalaga & Arturo Garcia. Production Company – Pokeepsie Films/Nadie & Perfectu Entertainment/Elbar Producciones AIE/Atresmedia Cine/PampaFilms/Atresmedia/Movistar/Generalitat Valenciana/CulturArts IVAC/Programa IberMedia/CreA SGR.
Blanca Suarez (Elena), Mario Casas (Nacho), Jamie Ordonez (Israel), Carmen Machi (Trini), Secun de la Rosa (Satur), Terele Pavez (Amparo), Joaquin Climent (Andres), Alejandro Awada (Sergio), Jordi Aguilar (Barrendero), Daniel Arribas (Coughing Type)
Various people are patronising or arrive at a bar in Madrid’s Mostenses Square around the same time. These include – Elena who is stopping off to charge her phone while on her way to a Tinder date; Nacho, an advertising executive working on his laptop; Trini, a widow who comes to play the slot machines; the homeless beggar Israel; the salesman Andres; and the retired cop Sergio, among others. One of the panhandlers exits the bar only to be abruptly shot in the head. So too is someone who goes out to help them. As the others argue about what just happened, they discover the bodies have vanished and the square is now deserted. This sparks heated arguments about what is going on and whether any of them might be responsible. Next, a man who has been in the toilet staggers out and collapses dead. A syringe is found near him and he is assumed to be a junkie. However, as vac suited people start a fire outside the bar, they discover that the dead man is a soldier and was infected with a virus. The realisation that some of them might be infected after touching the man and his belongings causes the group to split over fear of infection. Those who have touched the man are forcibly banished to the cellar. As they realise the syringe the dead man had may hold an antidote, there is a desperate scrabble to obtain it. Meanwhile, the authorities outside seem intent on covering up what is happening.
Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia made his directorial debut with the gonzo science-fiction film Accion Mutante (1993) and has since gone onto make a regular output of films, most of which can be labelled as dark comedies. These include the likes of the End Times comedy The Day of the Beast (1995), the US-made Perdita Durango/Dance with the Devil (1997), Common Wealth (2000) and Ferpect Crime (2004), the ghost story Films to Keep You Awake: The Baby’s Room (2006), the sf tv series Pluton B.R.B. Nero (2008-9), the circus psycho-thriller A Sad Trumpet Ballad (2010) and the witch comedy Witching and Bitching (2013).
The Bar is another of Alex de la Iglesia’s dark comedies. Like most of his other films, it is essentially predicated on creating a situation and putting the screws on a crosscut of characters with merciless regard. Other de la Iglesia films play out in a similar way – The Day of the Beast with its comic hunt for the Anti-Christ; Common Wealth with a group fighting for a stash of money in an apartment; As Luck Would Have It (2011) about a man who becomes a media celebrity after having an accident; My Big Night (2015) with rivals coming together for a tv performance. The first third of The Bar feels like it is going to be a conceptual SF film with the characters in a situation where they have been isolated from the rest of the world. Here de la Iglesia has a good deal of fun winding up the paranoia, toying with explanations possible and absurd, and bringing out the characters’ imagined fears.
The film then settles down into an infection drama but de la Iglesia still puts the twists on this with blackly funny regard. Like the scenes involving the efforts to push Jamie Ordonez down through the grate when his body won’t fit, or the fierce struggle over the syringes only for Carmen Machi to drop them down into the cellar and they to roll right down through the grate into the sewer below.
Some of this goes beyond dark humour into the disturbing – the paranoia that erupts over who has touched the dead man and his phone and then the decision to banish the possibly infected down into the cellar – only for the banished to then watch as those upstairs are incinerated by the authorities. The scenes down in the cellar/sewers fighting over the gun and syringes and then the debate over whether or not it is right to kill one of the group because there are not enough syringes abandon comedy for a drama of bared human greed and emotions. It all reaches a bleak ending – which probably didn’t need one of the group to turn into psycho – and a nicely sardonic coda.