Conflict between Man and the Devil has served as a long-running, albeit waning, theme in popular story telling. “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” are all popular American examples, but the oldest of which is the European “The Smith and the Devil.” Netflix’s new film, Errementari: The Devil and the Blacksmith, seeks to introduce the tale to newer audiences, but, in a sea of content, is it worth your time this?
Taking place in Basque Country following the Peninsular War, Errementari is set into motion when a government Official (Ramón Aguirre) visits a small rural town in search of the local Blacksmith. Whereas the Official and, in turn, the townsfolk suspect the Blacksmith of hoarding gold recovered from the war, in actuality Patxi (Kandidio Uranga) holds a lowly demon, Sartael, prisoner. Usue (Uma Bracaglia), a young orphan, discovers Patxi’s secret when she unknowingly frees Sartael from his cage.
In spite of the simple premise, Errementari holds a surprising amount of heart with its characters. The Blacksmith and the Devil may the film’s subtitle, but Usue stands as the most sympathetic character. Constantly chastised by both adults and children over her mother’s suicide, she remains headstrong in the face of her bullies, but she is still subject to feelings of doubt and loneliness. Coupled with her innocence, Usue serves as the emotional lynch pin to the film.
Complementing Usue is Patxi, the reclusive Blacksmith who harbors much guilt and is the subject of rumors and unfair speculation by the other townsfolk. At the film’s core is the story of two outcasts — Usue and Patxi — finding one another. As strange as it sounds, there’s something oddly heartwarming about watching the two characters bond over tormenting an emissary of Hell. In a way, Patxi and Usue’s relationship almost feels like a response to that between The Monster and Maria in Universal’s Frankenstein (1931), albeit less tragic (this comparison feels especially appropriate once the villagers come for Patxi bearing pitchforks and torches). Despite their time together amounting to only a single day, the bond that Usue and Patxi develop feels genuine and helps invest viewers beyond the basic set-up.
Opposite both Usue and Patxi is Sartael, Patxi’s demonic prisoner. While not as deep or fleshed out as Usue or Patxi, Sartael too becomes sympathetic in spite of his malice towards the other characters. This is largely accredited to his actor, Eneko Sagardoy, who manages to express a range of emotions despite the heavy makeup. Speaking of which, Sartael’s makeup is exceptional. His basic design is that of a traditional denizen of Hell — red and thin, with two horns and a spear-tipped tail. However, the makeup itself features a high level of detail that helps to bring the character to life. Often bathed in the hard, low-key light of Patxi’s furnace, Sartael is visually menacing and ultimately a memorable movie demon.
Even without the impressive makeup, Errementari is a great looking film. The Basque country landscape depicted is gloomy with withered trees, cloudy skies and a light fog permeating the landscape. Interiors and night sequences are all lit to evoke candle and fire light, which aids in contrasting the appropriately drab environment and simultaneously alluding to film’s devilish subject matter. While not as atmospheric or striking as say November (2017) or even The Witch (2016), Errementari is still visually appealing.
In spite of the fact that the film does not explicitly feature the Devil, Errementari is nonetheless an enjoyable tale. Viewers may be drawn in by the premise and atmosphere, but they’ll be pleasantly surprised the by the strength of its three central characters. Combined with the ninety-eight minute run time, there is no reason not to make a pack with this film.