Review: The Invisible Guardian (El guardián invisible)

Marta Etura and Nene in The Invisible Guardian - El guardián invisible

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.

Marta Etura in The Invisible Guardian (El guardián invisible)
Do I really have to go back there?

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.

The Invisible Guardian poster

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.

31 thoughts on “Review: The Invisible Guardian (El guardián invisible)”

      1. I believe the mother hated her cos she was a stepchild. And the scene where the mom’s cutting her hair sort of symbolises the instilling of purity by making a girl lose her attractive quality – her hair

        And when amia went to visit her mum in hospital the doc tells her that her brother in law visits weekly and is able to calm her down – probably because they share the same sentiments about ” purity”

        Amia put 2 and 2 together and figured the bro in law was d killer.

        Any other theories?

      1. The other two were born before she became involved in the satanic cult. She tried to kill Amaia twice and failed.

  1. It’s very strange that the father/husband did not stop the mother from abusing Amaia. It’s a good movie but it has too many plot holes.

  2. Perhaps the mother had an affair and Amaia is the child she had with another man. That’s why she hated Amaia cause the child reminds her of her sin whilst she is a supporter of purity.

      1. There was no suggestion of either of these things in the film. Amaia was born after the mother joined a cult that believed in sacrificing babies.

  3. Asif Ali Borgave

    I enjoyed this movie thoroughly. I don’t understand Spanish , but the subtitles made it easy. The cinematography was superb. The small town of Baztan looks so beautiful & virgin. It is spooky , errie & beautiful all at the same time.l so want to visit the place.
    I would like to see more of these films. Any suggestions?

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  5. I wanted very much to understand why the inspector’s mother hated her so much. She seemed to have no issues with her other two girls. It disturbed me that her older sister Flora seemed to have no empathy for the way her mother treated her sister Amalia. No answers were provided which was very disappointing because I wanted very much to understand that relationship.

    1. So do I. I watched it yesterday and am disturbed by the same things. Why did her mom hate and abuse her, and not her sisters? Cat, has any light been shed on this for you since you posted?

  6. There was a witchcraft element in this and I assumed the star detective was a stepchild. I think that the murders were very related to her childhood, relating to witchcraft. I also suspect that the mother had some kind of control over the father because he apparently was oblivious to ongoing abuse. I think it’s a good case of good versus evil. Cruelty was continuously piled on, yet the goodness in the star won out. Although a dark movie, I thought there was a very enlightening overall message.

    1. There was no suggestion that the detective was a stepchild. Her mother gave birth to her. This is shown in one of the films.

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  8. I guess there arent any laws againstbsex with kids in Spain or at least in their movies.

    This guy is screwing a 13 year old and his wife is like well I knew he was seeing somebody.

    Weird film

  9. I’ve just watched this for the first time and love it.

    My family are originally from that region.

    Look it seems strongly implied to me that Amaia was molested by the Dad.

    The memories are interleaved with instances of a father raping and killing his daughter and young girls being targets of abusive paedophiles.

    So Mum and older sister hated and blamed her. The other sisters were left alone so didn’t get scapegoated by Mum.

    That’s why Mum called her a little whore, Dad didn’t openly intervene, Mum cut off her hair and scarred her face.

    As you can see, the village culture very much sexualises and blames even young girls for being groomed and molested.

    The men seem to have little real shame about raping or molesting young girls, even their own daughters. It’s the girls fault for being impure.

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