Venus Review: Impressive Effects Can't Make Up For Tediously Familiar Cosmic Horror [TIFF]

The impact that 2007's "REC" has had on the found-footage subgenre can't be understated. While not obviously the first of its kind, it did help popularize it in the early 2000s thanks to its clever framing device of a late-night public access show. It also didn't hurt that the gross special effects, effective jump scares, and intriguing take on the "zombie" made it genuinely terrifying to watch at times.

Fast forward 15 years later, and "REC" co-director Jaume Balagueró can't seemingly shake the shadow of the film he made with Paco Plaza. That's because his latest film, the Toronto International Film Festival entry "Venus," feels more like a loosely Lovecraftian version of "REC" rather than its own thing. While "Venus" isn't a copy-and-paste of the 2007 film, there are far more blatant similarities than one might want to see, especially given how its premise promises so much more.

Lucía (Ester Expósito) is a dancer at a nightclub trying to leave her job behind, resulting in her stealing a duffel bag of ecstasy from her drug gang bosses. She seeks shelter with her estranged older sister, Rocío (Ángela Cremonte), and her daughter, Alba (Inés Fernández). Unfortunately, the apartment complex they live in, the Edificio Venus, harbors a dark secret threatening to reveal itself after an unexpected solar eclipse.

Everybody ends up leaving

While not without its merits, it ultimately just feels like a disappointment.

Despite starting off in a bustling club, there is a distinct emptiness that lingers throughout the film. This emptiness is one that was likely made as an artistic choice to demonstrate Lucía's loneliness, but it also is a bit of an indicator of how hollow the film actually is. While the relationship she develops with Alba is meant to be a focal point of the film, it is not developed properly enough for you to get attached to them as a pair. That's why the third-act reveal seems so forced, as rather than making you afraid for what could happen, it just feels like an inevitable progression that obviously will get interrupted.

As previously stated, however, the main problem with "Venus" is that it is essentially "REC" with a cosmic horror twist. Sure, this might seem like a surface-level complaint given how they both take place in doomed apartment buildings, but the similarities are deeper than that. You've got a grotesque entity locked in the complex's attic, a sinister conspiracy involving the potential end of the world, and a whole lot of blood. It also doesn't serve as an effective adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Dreams in the Witch House," only adapting the vaguest possible elements from the short story.

Not all is lost

Still, there are parts about "Venus" that are still worth checking out on their own accord. Expósito, most well-known for her role of Carla on Netflix's hit show "Elite," gives a strong performance as the troubled but well-meaning Lucía. Her interactions with Cremonte's Rocío carry a melancholic weight to them; the exact reason behind their falling-out isn't entirely explained, but there are more than enough hints for the audience to put together. She also has quite a physical performance during the film's final 30 minutes, which makes it surprising that she has never done a horror movie before.

As previously mentioned, there is a lot of blood. There isn't necessarily a ton of gore, but the visual effects the film has to offer are mostly well done. One scene, in particular, involving a rusty old stapler is a standout in terms of how nasty it gets. At the same time, others, including one that targets those with a fear of bugs, look just the tiniest bit too fake to actually feel scared by.

Ultimately, though, "Venus" is an overly-familiar disappointment. While not necessarily a bad movie, it feels like it could have been so much more if it just committed to being its own thing. Unfortunately, it just feels like a retread of other things we have seen before and doesn't create its own unique identity in the cosmic horror subgenre.

/Film rating: 5 out of 10