30 Coins review: HBO’s masterful horror show reimagines the genre

Hardly a couple of minutes into the HBO MAX series 30 Coins, audiences have actually currently seen a cow bring to life a human child. Plainly, something is afoot in this eight-episode program about sinister Christian forces attempting to take control of a remote Spanish town, and ultimately even the Vatican itself. Christian folklore satisfies Lovecraftian horror in the current genre-bending, constantly amusing effort from critic Spanish filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia. It’s a series of lots of treasures.

De la Iglesia has actually been producing cult category movies for nearly thirty years, from his 1993 sci-fi funny launching Mutant Action to his claustrophobic 2017 thriller The Bar. His cult work varies commonly in tone and topic: the Christian end-of-the-world experience The Day of the Monster redefined Spanish category movie theater and stays a cherished scary curiosity. The comical love letter to Westerns 800 Bullets checked out the age of Spanish and spaghetti Westerns in an amusing, wholehearted way. And the odd, dark action dramas The Last Circus and Witching and Bitching revealed the world how easily he can integrate increased category fare with a gut-wrenching psychological core. His filmography has actually ended up being an abundant tapestry of subversive funny that channels his preferred categories to challenge his audience’s expectations, in Spain and abroad.

30 Coins, or 30 Monedas in its initial Spanish title, centers on 3 primary characters: Dad Vergara, the exorcist and outlaw priest; Elena, the smart and resourceful vet; and Paco, the town’s cautious and reluctant mayor. That ensemble stands in for unique areas of society: politics, police, faith, etc. They rapidly mix the individual and the universal, thanks to pitch-perfect efficiencies that never ever forget their characters’ intimate inspirations.

A man standing by a door in a long corridor looks at the flock of sheep staring at the camera in 30 Coins

Image: HBO

The pilot episode gradually develops environment to ultimately go the complete Xtro path, with a dash of Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive! This opening season has lots of cult scary movie theater callbacks that are naturally developed into the story. A character is drawn into the ground while dreaming, like in A Headache on Elm Street. The town is captured in a long lasting fog, suffering occasions similar to older scary tales from Spain and somewhere else (The Vampires Night Orgy, the movies of Paul Naschy, and so on). John Carpenter’s The Important Things is an apparent impact on a few of the remarkable beast styles. However in spite of all the scaries, the director raises doubts: are the series’ occasions all the outcome of worry and fear, or in fact among the most scary versions of wicked the scary category has needed to use?

Never in the course of the show do the writers suggest that God or the devil aren’t real. Quite the opposite: they invite viewers on a journey to discover where the battlefields of good vs. evil might lead. The show’s premise is simple: some believe that the truth always resided in the Gospel of Judas, an apocryphal, forbidden Gnostic text that calls for a complete re-evaluation of the Christian faith — namely that Judas never betrayed Christ, but acted precisely as the Son of God instructed.

In 30 Coins, the Gnostic sect of Cainites have become more powerful than ever, and they’re searching for the 30 coins paid to Judas for Christ’s betrayal. They think whoever manages to find them will possess the ultimate power, making them a prize more coveted even than the Spear of Longinus or the Holy Chalice. This premise could have unfolded in myriad ways, and most writers would probably have gone down the Dan Brown path. But de la Iglesia and his longtime screenwriting partner Jorge Guerricaechevarría obviously have other plans.

A woman is chased by a giant spider-like monster in 30 Coins

Photo: HBO

30 Coins is structured like a tabletop role-playing game, with subplots following each other in a narrative that eventually reveals their close connections. The director said so himself, expressly citing the Call of Cthulhu campaigns The Masks of Nyarlathotep and Tatters of the King. As such, each episode has its own identity while being part of a whole. Each focuses on and reimagines a specific region of the horror genre: the exorcism, the child-monster, the mirror possession, the dead coming back to life, the satanic apocalypse, and so on.

And each episode draws on a wide-ranging network of influences. Since his debut feature, Mutant Action, de la Iglesia has repeatedly demonstrated his vast knowledge of classic literature and cinema — which he pointedly avoided referencing in his early works — and popular alternative culture like comic books and exploitation cinema. His new series is a golden opportunity to retool some of his greatest influences and give them new meaning, or at the very least, to give them a new flavor. Christianity imbues everything in the show, from the landscape to the characters’ way of thinking and behaving. It takes a close look at Spanish religiosity in particular, but also at the ways humans weave untangleable webs of mythological excrescences onto their faith.

The stakes are high because they go beyond the physical realm. The series deliberately challenges the idea of what constitutes evil, and questions the future of faith and spirituality Although de la Iglesia chose to leave his first season open-ended while it could have benefited from a more concrete conclusion, the imagery should delight horror enthusiasts. Genre fare rarely dares go this far in its search for universal, existential substance.

De la Iglesia’s Day of the Beast is about the often-diabolical misreading of signs, as well as the misreading of diabolical signs. 30 Coins is all about learning to read those signs anew. They’re everywhere: in the way people pretend to care for each other, in the way they exploit faith to turn it into worry, in the way humans try to rationalize the unexplainable to avoid facing their deepest fears, in the way they won’t confess to their intimate relationship with wicked itself. Father Vergara’s journey takes him from wondering what God’s plan is to understanding that he has to find God within himself, if he’s to find it at all.

But unlike Day of the Beast — and most of de la Iglesia’s work — 30 Coins is by no means a comedy. His 2006 made-for-TV scary movie The Baby’s Room was a rare exception, but 30 Coins reaches further in scope and ambition, and is arguably his most discursive horror project.

Though it makes excellent use of existing sacred texts by turning them into mythology, the show goes much further than that: it reclaims Christian horror through pop-cultural Lovecraftian imagery, atmosphere, and euhemerism that adds new lore to Christianity. For instance, Father Vergara learns that the often-mentioned but never-described gifts the biblical Magi brought to the newborn Christ were magical scrolls bestowing the power of miracles on whoever uses them, thereby explaining Christ’s power by giving it a fantasy-category gloss. The Lovecraftian dimension given to wicked in 30 Coins is one of the the majority of magnificent and satisfying reappropriation and trivialization of classical mythos in modern storytelling. It’s an exercise in bringing the most influential cultural creation of yore into our deformed, ugly, anxiety-inducing present.

However it also isn’t a dry sermon, or a vehicle for lectures about religion. Everything in 30 Coins is designed for maximum audience enjoyment, from the blockbuster style to images like a priest wielding two guns and walking away from a fire in slow motion. It’s a pop reimagining of Christian scary on a scale that’s rare for Spanish entertainment. And it lets de la Iglesia satisfy a few of his nerdiest filmmaking desires, while still summoning up animals drawn out straight from humankind’s worst problems.

30 Coins is readily available to stream on HBO Max, Spectrum TELEVISION, and DirecTV.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.