Brief synopsis: An uptight detective finds his way of life and work challenged when his cosplay loving boss instructs him to work with a comic-loving son of a retiring detective to solve a series of gruesome murders that all relate to classic comic superhero origin stories.
Is it any good?: Unknown Origins (Origenes Secretos – original Spanish title) is an enjoyable, quirky film that speeds through its ninety-six-minute runtime. The acting is good from all concerned and the story is interesting enough to keep one gripped to its conclusion.
Spoiler territory: Police search a burning building for survivors. Police officer Javier (Álex Garcia) finds an old lady and hands her to a colleague. The woman tells him that her husband is still in the building. Javier tells his commander that there are still people in the building. His chief tells him that the building is unsafe and they should leave it to the fire department. Javier ignores his superior and heads back into the building. The fire engulfs him and he dies.
Sometime later, Javier’s father, Cosme (Antonio Resines), who is a detective and close to retirement, knocks on the door of his other son, Jorge Elias (Brays Efe), as he leaves for work. He gets a call over the radio about an incident and heads out.
Jorge stumbles out of bed. He is not a policeman. Jorge runs a comic book store and is a sci-fi and comic geek. At the incident location, Cosme meets the detective who is replacing him, David Valentin (Javier Rey). The two exchange greetings and head into a dark building where a body has been found.
They find a muscular man on a workout bench, his head seemingly severed by the barbell falling on his neck. His skin is pallid and greying. David, on seeing and smelling the body, vomits. Whilst in a laundromat, he tells Cosme that his parents were killed when he was a boy but it had no bearing on his decision to become a policeman.
With David cleaned up, the two men go to see Bruguera (Ernesto Alterio), the pathologist. He tells them that not only was the man killed but his skin was deliberately made to look grey. Before Bruguera can tell them anything else, their conversation is interrupted by a woman dressed in an anime costume.
She wants to know why Cosme is there. David is confused and Bruguera amused. Cosme quickly explains to David that she is the boss, Norma (Verónica Echegui). Norma is not happy. She wants to know why the retired Cosme is looking into a case. David tries to intervene, saying he thinks Cosme’s experience would be helpful. Norma tells Cosme he needs to clean out his desk. She leaves.
David gets called to the scene of another murder. The body is in armour but the man’s heart has been cut out. The victim, it turns out, was a weapons seller on the internet.there is the fragment of a comic book found near the victim.
Cosme is looking at photos from the first murder. Jorge sees one of the photos and remarks on how he looks like the Hulk. Cosme asks if the Hulk is not green. Jorge tells him that in early issues of the comic the Hulk had been grey.
The next day, Norma forces Cosme to sign his retirement papers. Cosme sees photos from the scene of the armoured body on a board in Norma’s office. She tells him that the killer kept the body alive for hours after taking the heart out by attaching a mechanical contraption to the organs.
Cosme takes the comic cutting. He returns to the scene of the first murder. He finds a piece of paper with the words ‘secret origins’ scrawled on it. He also finds part of an old comic. It is from the first Hulk comic.
David and Jorge ride in a lift to the same floor in the police precinct. David has a meeting with Norma and Cosme. As Cosme explains the connection between comic book character origin stories and the gruesome murders, David’s attention is split as he watches Jorge in an adjoining office.
David is sceptical about the murders and comic book link. Norma explains that they are bringing in someone to help him as he has very little knowledge of comics. David sees Jorge taking something from the office and tackles him to the floor. Norma tells him the man he just tackled is his new partner.
David and Jorge return to the second crime scene. Jorge points out that a fire axe that is in the display is wrong. The axe is given to Bruguera to analyse. David goes to Jorge’s comic store to buy some comics. He runs into Norma who is dressed, once again, like an anime character. David questions her recruitment of Jorge, especially as she seems to be as much of a geek as Jorge.
Norma points out to him that she does not read comics and knows very little about them, preferring anime and films. An admonished David tries to belittle others in the store, scoffing at heir interest in the comics. Jorge points out to him that all of them hold very responsible and high paying jobs.
David returns to the precinct. Norma comes and tells him there is a suspect. She reminds him to pick up Jorge. At the location, the special operations team will not let them in. Norma turns up and shoots the door lock off.
Inside the apartment, they find the suspect is the next victim. The man is burning to death as they enter the apartment. Jorge tells them it is the Human Torch origin story. Bruguera tells them the man boiled to death over many days. David asks Norma why can’t she let Cosme keep working. She tells him that he is dying of cancer.
David goes Cosme and Jorge’s for lunch. David tells Jorge about the night his parents died. It sounds like the Batman origin story. Jorge asks him if he has looked into the case. David tells him he has not. He tells him to call Norma. They head to the records room and find David’s parents case. Amongst the evidence is a comic book title. It is the Batman origin story.
The three start to collate comic book character origin stories. Jorge explains that to purchase the comics that the headlines came from would cost a small fortune. Whoever was committing the crimes had to be rich. Jorge tells them that there is only one person who could tell them who might have purchased the comics; Paco. They go and meet Paco (Leonardo Sbaraglia).
Jorge makes a deal with Paco to get the name of the most likely suspect. Paco tells them that it is a man named Victor Vid. David drops Jorge home, telling him they will go to the suspects home the next day. He heads to the suspect’s address.
Jorge, knowing that David is lying, calls Norma. David breaks into the Vid’s apartment after getting no response when knocking.
Inside the apartment, David finds a wall with cuttings and comic references. He comes across Vid sitting in a chair, the shock of seeing him making him shoot. Hallucinogenic gas is released by the shots and David finds himself facing a masked man whose voice is distorted electronically. David sees insects crawling out of the man’s mask. The man identifies himself as Nóvaro and hits David with a crowbar.
Norma arrives and shoots at Nóvaro. He sprays mace in her face and escapes. Later, Bruguera tells them that Vid had been dead for years. The killer had stolen his identity and embalmed him. He also tells them he has found traces of polonium-210. Norma is worried but David does not know why.
Bruguera points out that internal affairs will take over once they find out polonium-210 is involved because it is so dangerous. David tells Norma he is going to see Cosme. Whilst at Cosme’s place, another murder happens. It is a recreation of the Spider-Man origin story.
David goes to see Norma and Jorge. Jorge tells him that he thinks that Nóvaro wants David to become a superhero. Norma agrees. David thinks they are both crazy. He tells Jorge, in a pique of anger, that his father is dying. Jorge shows Cosme his brother’s suit from when he died. He bought it because he felt it depicted a hero.
David goes to see Jorge. Jorge is not at the store, having gone out to buy pizza for the patrons. He has left a costume for David. David puts on the costume. Jorge returns to the store with pizza for all the cosplayers. He and David speak. David apologises for telling him about his father and tells him he needs him. Cosme works out who the murderer is.
Nóvaro kidnaps Cosme. He calls David at the comic shop and tells him to meet him at the Madrid water plant. He tells him he will poison the water supply unless he comes alone. David tells the other two that he is heading to the water plant. Norma says she is coming with him. Jorge wants to go but they tell him he cannot.
Jorge gives David his brother’s police protective gear to wear as a costume. David and Norma head to the water plant. Cosme’s kidnapper reveals himself. It is Bruguera. He kidnapped Cosme because he realised he had worked out who he was and he could also use him to help create the world’s first superhero.
His plan was to force David to become that hero. David tricks Norma into getting out of the car and drives off, leaving her. He tells her he has to confront Nóvaro alone. Bruguera tells Cosme he never killed David’s parents but the story of them being shot in an alleyway after a concert was too good an opportunity to miss. he planted the comic book clipping in the evidence.
David gets to the water plant. At the top, Bruguera is numbing his face with injections. He is convinced David will show up as a superhero. He tells Cosme he is going to kill him but has drugged him so as he will not be in pain. He wants to give David more of an incentive to take up the hero mantle. Bruguera dips his face in acid so he cannot be recognised. He puts a mask on.
David gets to the top and points his gun at Bruguera/Nóvaro. Bruguera threatens to kill Cosme if he does not put his gun down. David puts his gun down but Bruguera kills Cosme anyway. Burguesa and David fight. Bruguera, who had planned to die, falls into a vat of acid. After Cosme’s funeral, the three keep looking for clues of Nóvaro’s true identity. All they find is a lair with access to police files worldwide and a lot of money. David decides to become a superhero. The end.
Final thoughts: Unknown Origins, written by Fernando Navarro and David Galán Galindo, with Galindo also on directing duties, is a pleasant enough film. The premise of taking superhero origin stories as the link between murders is a good and interesting one, along similar lines of Fincher’s darker serial killer film, Seven.
Unlike Seven, Unknown Origins is not dark, with a lot of humour coming from the absurdity of the premise and the challenging of what is considered normal and right. Considering that Rey’s David is the main protagonist, his character is a little underwritten making it difficult to root for him as much as one should or want to.
Echegui’s Norma and Efe’s Jorge are much stronger characters, adding depth and colour to proceedings. Even Resines’ Cosme is stronger than David.
Galindo’s directing is competent and the film is nicely lensed. The makeup department and costume department can both take a bow, as both of those elements are top-notch in the film.
In a film where, ultimately, the villain wins, Unknown Origins will not sit well with everyone. That being said, it is a good enough film to devote an hour and a half to.