The Invisible Guardian (El guardián invisible) is a Spanish language thriller from Spain. The lead character is a female police inspector.
Amaia Salazar (Marta Etura) is a police officer in Pamplona. The film opens with Amaia checking a pregnancy test to disappointing negative results. She gets a call and tells her husband James (Benn Northover) she has a new case and may be gone several days. James’s origins are never spelled out, but the two of them speak English at home.
The case involves a young girl, murdered and left by a stream in the hills around Elizondo, Spain. Elizondo is Amaia’s home town but she is reluctant to go back there. It quickly becomes apparent that the murder is the work of a serial killer from that area. Amaia must stay even longer in the area to solve the murders.
Amaia works with a local policeman named Jonan (Nene, as Carlos Librado). She quickly organizes her team with various jobs. She’s a good leader, generous with praise and smart about what needs to be done.
A considerable part of The Invisible Guardian (El guardián invisible) is an exploration of Amaia’s childhood, which was traumatic and terrible. Her mother mistreated her horribly and tried to kill her. Her father took her to live with her Tía Engrasi (Itziar Aizpuru), who saved her.
While working in Elizondo, she stays at her Tía’s place. Her husband James comes to join her there.
Amaia’s two sisters and brothers-in-law still live in Elizondo. The eldest sister, Flora (Elvira Mínguez) bitterly blames Amaia for leaving and for their mother’s illness (she’s considered insane and is in a hospital). Flora runs the family bakery.
Bakeries are an important factor in the crimes, because each of the dead children have a small local type of cake on their bodies when they are found. The family bakery brings back many memories for Amaia, some pleasant, some horrifying.
Tía Engrasi does tarot readings and believes in a mythical forest dweller somewhat akin to the idea of a Bigfoot. One of the less effective subplots in The Invisible Guardian (El guardián invisible) is the idea that this forest guardian protects people in the area and has been seen near the murdered girls.
The effort to put this mythological creature into a modern day police procedural didn’t work for me. Clues like animal hair on the girls’ bodies were used and then completely negated by the revelation of who the killer turned out to be. Perhaps the title The Invisible Guardian was so important that the credibility of that subplot was secondary. I generally like magical realism, but this was a bit of a mess.
What I found powerful about the film was Amaia’s story. She’s a good cop, courageous and excellent at her job. She has a good relationship with her husband and wants to have children with him. She’s overcome her childhood in many ways. But going back home to be around her family forces her to remember it and deal with it all over again.
Of course, because she’s in this place, with these people, working on this case, the murderer turns out to be someone very close to her.
The film is based on a novel by Dolores Redondo. I don’t know if there are other novels with Amaia Salazar as the main character, but I’d enjoy other films featuring her. Fernando González Molina directed based on a screenplay by Luiso Berdejo.
The story takes place in winter. There is constant rain. Images of water are everywhere. The location in northern Spain is beautiful – mountains and forests, a small town nestled in a deep valley with a river running through it. I would love to see it without all the rain and fog and with the trees in bloom.
All the trailers on YouTube are missing English subtitles. This one has a couple of English conversations with Spanish subtitles. Even if you understand no Spanish at all, you can see the setting and the characters here. Netflix definitely has the English subtitles in its version.
Inspector Salazar returns in the second film in this trilogy with The Legacy of the Bones.