Montserrat grew up gorging herself on classic horror films with her best friend, Tristán, reveling in the craft of suspense, blood and terror. Now a sound editor whose projects are parceled out each week by her misogynistic boss, Montserrat still loves film and her role in creating it. But more and more, her boss is assigning the work to younger editors who can be paid less to do the same job. Tristán’s lot is no better: Once a rising soap opera actor, his life and career were derailed 10 years ago in a tragic accident that left his superstar girlfriend dead. So when Tristán’s neighbor, the legendary horror director Abel Urueta, asks them to help him finish a film that was supposedly imbued with a magical spell by a Nazi defector, the two figure that they have little to lose. But as Tristán begins to see gruesome visions of his dead girlfriend and Montserrat is stalked by a mysterious, shadowy figure, they begin to suspect that there was more danger to Urueta’s crackpot scheme than he let on.
After bringing new life to the haunted house (Mexican Gothic) and the evil scientific genius (The Daughter of Doctor Moreau) tropes, author Silvia Moreno-Garcia puts a new spin on Nazi occultists and eldritch rituals in this love letter to classic horror cinema. Much like the horror films to which it pays homage, Silver Nitrate has deliberate pacing and deep character development, but these elements don’t hinder its capacity for utter terror, as it summons the fear of what’s hiding at the edge of your vision, just out of sight in the dark. Moreno-Garcia plays in this space well, recognizing that when the inexplicable happens, the subsequent doubting of your own sanity can be just as frightening as the initial event. After all, as Montserrat points out, the fear of being cursed can be much more powerful than the curse itself.
While the horror is effective and then some, the sentence-by-sentence craft of Silver Nitrate is not to be overlooked. Moreno-Garcia’s prose is enchanting, full of perfect phrases that dot every page. Whether they are describing the brilliant whites produced on old film or the visage of a ghostly apparition, her sentences deliver tidy packages of imagery like motes of light in the darkness, their beauty so great that sometimes you forget—just for a moment—about the things that go bump in the night.