2021 is off to a spooky start thanks to showrunner Álex de la Iglesia’s deliciously wicked 30 Coins, a horror series import from HBO Europe. The acclaimed Spanish show is about to create a whole new legion of fans once discovered on HBO Max — the popular streaming service is ripe for fresh supernatural content. Though judging by its premiere, 30 Coins is closer in tone to True Detective’s macabre nature. Bleakness runs amuck, innocuous investigations uncover unspeakable evil, and city officials are forced to become reluctant defenders against the rising occult. With ghastly creature creations and a queasy cinematographic palate, 30 Coins is not for the faint of heart; it’s for those who chase nightmares so they can conquer them.
The pilot episode “Cobwebs” does its titular job of spinning you into its web of demonic conspiracy. The tiny village of Pedraza has a hot new mayor (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) ready to liven up its reputation. With his meatpacking business serving as the town’s main economic lifeline, Mayor Paco goes on a goodwill tour to promote his slaughterhouses’ hygienic and ethical standards. Unfortunately for him, the cows came home early and contributed a whole lot more than milk.
Before one of his press conferences, Paco is informed that a cow gave birth to a human baby. The investigator on the scene, Elena (Megan Montaner), suspects the newborn was transferred to the animal’s belly by a local girl attempting to rid herself of an unwanted pregnancy. After following up with a young woman matching the motive leads to a dead end, the trail grows hot again upon reviewing the stable’s CCTV footage. In coordination with Sergeant Lagunas (Pepón Nieto), Elena and Paco believe they’ve found their culprit in “village idiot” Antonio (Javier Bódalo), caught on tape attempting some kind of obscured subterfuge.
In the meantime, Pedraza’s newest priest, Padre Manuel Vergara (Eduard Fernández), can’t seem to run away from his past. He fled another town after being accused of murder by instigating a boy’s heart attack during an exorcism. The only thing that came out of the young man’s skin was a silver Roman coin with mystical properties.
During the pilot’s opening scene, the coin featured a bank robber stealing money and ancient scrolls from a Swiss safety deposit box. Bullets from police officers have no impact on him, his invulnerability stemming from that same coin in necklace form. When the thief enters the escape vehicle, he’s greeted by a mysterious passenger, who removes the necklace and thus his lifeforce. It turns out the coin can keep the undead living until they no longer serve a mortal purpose.
With Father Vergara now in possession of one of these thirty dispersed magic coins, it’s no wonder why the forces of darkness have followed the priest to his new parish. The frustrating part is that Vergara would rather be seen as a social pariah than burden former skeptics like Elena and Paco with the reality of Hell’s monsters existing. No matter how hard Vergara tries to play the martyr — even going as far as to gaslight Elena into believing her nerves got the better of her — eventually, the mind would rather accept the truth of monsters than admit insanity.
However, Vergara and Elena do successfully thwart Antonio from throwing the mysterious newborn off the roof of Pedraza’s church bell tower. He cries in protest that the baby is the Devil’s spawn, but no one is willing to listen. Hindsight turns out to be 20/20, as the farmer’s wife Carmen (Carmen Machi), who found the child, starts growing more and more attached to him. It turns out Carmen prayed to Satan to deliver her a baby to replace the one she and her husband lost many years ago in a tragic accident. Carmen threw caution to the wind with her wish, soon becoming possessed by the infant, who himself is a host for the same demon-hunting Vergara.
This Rosemary’s baby is a literal giant in diapers, controlled by a voodoo doll made of metal wiring. The demon vacillates between host bodies, primarily using Carmen to enact violence — she stabs her husband to death with long knitting needles — and craft sewing thread cobwebs all through the house. These creepy concoctions hold trespassers in cocoon entrapment, including Paco after a confrontation with Carmen goes disastrous. Elena, Vergara, and Sergeant Lagunas manage to free Paco from captivity but cannot pacify the killer kid.
He morphs into a spider-monster whose spiked mouth has a baby’s face in its center. The creature is truly one of the most disturbing creations to come out of the horror genre, a visceral hex that is impossible to free from memory. Although he’s technically defeated by the episode’s end, all signs point to another creepy, crawly return. Thank goodness Paco, Elena, and Padre Vergara are on hand to stand between the unnamed demon and the sanctity of their precious village.
It’s refreshing to see a politician actually be pulled into the heroic fray instead of obstructing the demise of his society. Elena’s occupation and back story need a little more expository help, and Vergara’s shaggy warrior-priest edge might grow dull if he doesn’t allow others to help him fight the tide of sin that is about to engulf Pedraza. Thanks to a compelling plot with ancient Roman-Catholic mythological roots, it’s easy to surrender to 30 Coin’s inherent darkness.