Horror-thrillers need to be able to not just build suspense but to deliver on each build-up. Most of the time this means twisting its narrative in surprising ways or pushing your audience into situations that reward their mystery-solving skills. Netflix’s The Chalk Link (Jaula) manages to do this all perfectly.
A Spanish film, The Chalk Line is directed by Ignacio Tatay, and written by Tatay and Isabel Peña. In the film, Paula (Elena Anaya) and her husband are coming back from dinner when they suddenly find a young girl, Clara (Eva Tennear), wandering around a dark road. She’s alone, disheveled, and frozen, even as an oncoming motorcycle hurtles towards her. Saving her and bringing her to the hospital, the two find themselves reunited with the girl two weeks later when no one claims her. With the means to take care of Clara, and Paula beginning to form a bond with her, the two decide to foster her and hope that she acclimates to life again.
Clearly traumatized, the young girl needs a lot of care. You see, she believes that if she steps out of the chalk line on the floor a monster will come out and punish her. As Paula learns to reach across the line and open the girl’s world with love and connection, she gets more curious about the young girl’s past. When she starts connecting dots and opening doors, Paula finds herself in danger when she begins to uncover the truth.
Centering a horror story or mystery around children is always an easy get. They’re innocent and immediately put the cast and characters into protective mode. Throw in elements of mistreatment and silence, and it’s easy to understand why a character would become so involved with uncovering the truth and in the case of The Chalk Line getting a semblance of justice. This film knows exactly how to manipulate the audience’s response to protect the girl at the center of the story. Clara is pale and small and fragile, but she is also scared and angry in equal measure. Her art and her responses to the world around her build tension as Paula tries her best to navigate it all.
Paula’s compassion to talk to Clara on the same level and with Clara’s existing rules allow the two to form a bond that speaks volumes in the film. The two love each other, and are pulled to each other, and it’s clear how the film’s final act (which is better left unspoiled) can take place.
Eva Tennear, the young actress who plays Clara is phenomenal, even in her quiet moments. Her appearance is haunting and the chemistry she builds with Paula feels genuine. She’s able to hold your attention when the camera is on her in a way that is rare for kids in films. Additionally, her silence allows the narrative to develop around her but she is never lost within it. Instead, she’s centered wonderfully.
Ultimately, The Chalk Line is a near-perfect thriller. While there are some inconsistencies, the way that Tatay is able to use light and still objects to bring a sense of foreboding in each scene helps ratchet up the tension especially as the mystery deepens. Finally, the violence and reveal of the film’s last act are so well crafted and paced that it was impossible to look away, even when it was uncomfortable. If you’re looking for a scary treat for the Halloween weekend, this works wonders.
The Chalk Link (Jaula)
Ultimately, The Chalk Line is a near-perfect thriller. While there are some inconsistencies, the way that Tatay is able to use light and still objects to bring a sense of foreboding in each scene helps ratchet up the tension especially as the mystery deepens.