TV & Movies

How Netflix’s New Spanish Original ‘Someone Has to Die’ Pushes Industry Envelopes

Mexico’s Manolo Caro, the creator, director and writer of “The House of Flowers,” may have another Netflix Original hit on his hands with the dark family thriller “Someone Has to Die” (Alguien Tiene Que Morir).

Director of five movies and a documentary since 2013’s feature debut “I Don’t Know Whether to Slit My Wrists or Leave Them Long,” Caro became only the second showrunner from Spain and Latin America, following “Money Heist’s” Alex Pina, to sign a multi-year production pact with Netflix, in May 2019.

Available globally from Oct. 16, “Someone Has to Die” once again moves the industry dial for Netflix on its Spanish-language production scene. Caro and Diego Ávalos, Netflix vice president of original content for Spain, discussed the process at an online Spanish-language conversation hosted by Madrid’s Casa America, which was released on Friday.

The need to be even “more specific in content, while portraying human relations,” is greater than ever with the Internet’s democratization of program choice, said Avalos. “We have to prime local elements with a local vision.” If creators don’t try to triumph in their local market, they’ll rarely sweep audiences abroad, he argued.

“The House of Flowers,” which is a portrait of a laughably dysfunctional Mexican family, is a case in point. Breaking out to rank as the second most-watched series of any nationality on Netflix in Mexico last year, it also proved a big cult play in Spain and Latin America. Equally, “Someone Has to Die” has shot to number one on Netflix in Spain, and also Argentina, after just one day.

“When I grew up, the only way to go global was to go to Hollywood. No longer. We can portray concrete, specific things about our own societies and resonate worldwide,” Caro added.

Five years to the near day after Netflix launched in Spain on Oct. 20, 2015, “we’re still learning,” said Netflix’s Avalos. What it is attempting to do is build a Spanish-world star system that also applies to directors and actors.

“Someone Has to Die” delivers a specific vision, of a sordid 1950s Spain, nailing the heartless inhumanity of the society that dictator Francisco Franco created.

Caro carved out a reputation with his features and “The House of Flowers,” which played with melodrama and flamboyant aesthetics to tragicomic effect.

In “Someone Has to Die,” there’s melodrama, but near pure tragedy. Gregorio (Ernesto Alterio) summons son Gabino (Alejandro Speitzer) from Mexico to marry the daughter of a local shoe factory owner who slips Gregorio large bribes. Gabino arrives back at his family home, a fusty country house outside Madrid, with Lazaro (Isaac Hernández), a ballet dancer. Lazaro soon enamors Gabino’s lovelorn mother, Mina (Cecilia Suárez), and attracts Cayetana, Gabino’s fiancee (Ester Expósito), while unleashing a local wave of homophobic hostility and xenophobia.

Just about the only laughs come from the sheer outrageousness of the ruling regime’s cruelty. After Gabino is outed as gay, Gregorio, who runs a prison for LGBTQ offenders, has his son incarcerated and looks on as he is tortured.

“When we started the project, series were typically 10-15 episode. But we have to experiment with formats. [Other] series are now being made with 10-minute episodes,” said Caro, who brought “Someone Has to Die” in as a short, sharp three-part miniseries.

Given that the local sport in the family’s whereabouts is pigeon shooting, which allows much of the cast to walk around with double-barreled shot guns, Caro maintains a near mafia movie-style tension over the series’ total 150 minutes. The audience knows there will be carnage, as Lazaro rejects Cayetana and begins an illicit affair with Mina. It’s just a question of who wastes whom.

“Someone Has to Die” is produced by Netflix and Mexico City-based Noc Noc Cinema but is shot in Spain. Caro also mixes his stars, casting early Almodóvar regular Maura and “Elite’s” Expósito opposite Mexico’s Suárez, Caro’s muse and the iconic slow-talking lead of “The House of Flowers.”

“We have to reinvent ourselves every day, being in permanent contact with audiences,” said Caro.

The next step, which he hopes to take in his new project, set to shoot in Spain, is to cast Spanish-language actors with no thought about nationality, Caro said, adding that he’d been looking at Chilean and Colombian actors. That’s grist to the mill as Spain’s production sector continues to gear up.

“English and Hollywood no longer dominate the world and Spain is now at Hollywood’s level,” Ávalos concluded.

For Spanish speakers, here’s a link to the whole Casa de América conversation:

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