This is very much a film of two halves, with it becoming clear that it did not have the benefit of a large budget. When in daylight the image can look far beyond its meagre roots, with the breathtaking sweeps along the mountainous vistas a joy to behold. There is sound delineation and everything stays generally sharp and with good detail.
Step into the night or lower light levels though and what appears to have been a naturalistic attempt to utilise pre-existent light sources takes a heavy knock on all aspects of the visuals. Crushing enters the fray, as does noise, blocking and one instance of a strange line-like effect. Under the bright light bulbs of interior scenes things become washed out which, whilst being an artistic notion to highlight the juxtaposition between domesticity and nature, erodes much of the fine detail and shadow detail. Whether the camera is mobile also makes an impact, with the fixed position giving far better results.
The colour palette is muted, but it is hard to judge as clearly some shots are intentionally shot with a more widely opened iris to blow out the image and drench it in a dreamlike layer of whiteness. Skin tones remain very consistent though, somewhat surprising given the shifts in light sources.
There was clearly a lot of thought put into the naturalistic tones but the disc doesn't handle these subtleties terribly well. In brightness the image is consistent, but the darker sequences show up a more flawed digital look than the filmic appearance most would demand from Blu-ray.
Given the options available, coupled with the low budget style, I can only surmise that the original sound recordings were 2.0. This would go some way to explaining the more uncomplicated and sometimes slightly rough nature of the surround sound mix.
As with many lower budget thrillers, the use of bass is paramount to emphasising the growing unease felt by the protagonist, and Hierro is no different. The sub swells to create a sense of pressure but does so with remarkable subtlety and when it is called for it manages a terse, rhythmical pumping of bass that is very tight and responsive.
The centre channel can be a little less consistent, with the occasional wavering of level from the slightly muffled to the point of being too prominent in the mix, but generally it is fairly solid and gives a nice rounded quality to voices, even to my non-Spanish speaking ear.
There isn't a great deal for the rear speakers to be dealing with considering the large amounts of pondering that goes on but there are some accomplished uses of discreet effects and they play more than a fleeting part in bringing the musical arrangements to life, which brings me on to the aspect of the mix that is afforded the greatest care - the score. The sub is absolutely integral to creating a sense of an expansive instrumental atmosphere and although the front soundstage doesn't feel the widest, the clear depth to plucked strings and the like is commendable. It is a rough mix in places, but the most important areas are well catered for, just not mind blowing.
Hierro is very much an atypical feature debut. It shows some signs of creativity and artistic flourishes, but fails to chart an even vaguely new course through the murky waters of the thriller genre. It relies too heavily on many tricks viewers will likely have seen numerous times before. Thankfully the acting is at least top notch, but ultimately even the central performance of Elena Anaya isn't enough to pull this out of mediocrity.
The disc is at times both wonderful and flawed, with an image and sound quality that varies seemingly due to its low cost roots. That the extras are non existent only compounds the fact that this is very much placed in the budget disc category, however it is hard to see where the market for this title lies as those fans of Latin/Spanish chillers will already know of many that are far more polished and original than this one.
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