Ropes is one expertly crafted thriller with more than a few Hitchcockian traits embedded in the film’s DNA. A single location and a protagonist restricted by their own body recall Rear Window whilst the natural world threat is the kind of thing you’d see in The Birds. This is also a fiercely engaging take on the marauding rabid dog narrative that is perhaps most famous thanks to Stephen Kings’ Cujo (which is not one of the great adaptations of the masters work), and it even reminds of another King work, Gerald’s Game, as night and dehydration leads to unwanted visitors. And there is even something very 2020 to proceedings, with the cause of all the ill being a diseased bat and our hero being trapped in their home, unable to escape.
All this is to say that debut director José Luis Montesinos marshals the film well, working from the script up (co-written by Yako Blesa) to create a visually inventive work that manages to sustain its slight premise with a tense atmosphere dripping with dread. If there is nothing in Ropes that feels particularly fresh this does not stop it from being an engaging, often unnerving thriller that may very well diminish your love for man’s best friend.
For the set-up the film relies upon to properly work you need a compelling lead performance. And in this regard Ropes is lucky in that Paula del Rio gives one of the best turns in a genre film this year. A prickly, complicated figure, she nonetheless carries our sympathies through the extensive length of time where she is the only person on screen. The film asks a lot of her, putting del Rio through the ringer both physically and when it explores some of the more complicated aspects of the character’s backstory, and the actor does a tremendous job here.
There has been a steady stream of narratives in recent years that pits characters against vicious animals (Crawl, Burning Bright, The Pool, 47 Metres Down to name four from the past decade). Ropes is one of the better entries thanks to a convincingly constructed narrative and lead performance that carries even the most challenging of moments. This one might not be for dog lovers, but it is sure to sustain genre fans who prefer their films to be almost unbearably tense.