For many years, Lola Otero was Spain’s most glamourous woman – a supermodel with a fairytale marriage whose face adorned every magazine cover. But what the world didn’t know is that she was born hideously deformed, and her beautiful appearance is maintained by regular injections of a molecule-altering drug. When an elderly woman is brutally murdered on New Year's Eve, the cops investigating the crime discover that she is only the latest victim to be killed on that day over the years, and that the now reclusive Lola might be mixed up in it all.
This Spanish curiosity is one of those throw-it-all-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it- sticks kinda films. Set in the near future (the film opens amusingly with some spectacular spaceship action before the camera pulls back to show that this is just a film on a TV), it is on one hand pure trash, but on the other an intriguing satire about the representation of female beauty in the media. The cops investigating the woman’s murder – gruff veteran Lt. Arribas (Roberto Álvarez) and his bumbling sidekick Pelayo (Javivi) – discover that both she and the other victims were once Miss Spain, and that each has been killed on December 31st... the date of Lola Otero’s birth.
As a straight detective story, The Ugliest Woman in the World doesn’t really offer that many thrills – it might take Arribas and Pelayo half the film to work out who the killer is, but we know within minutes. Álvarez and Javivi both suit their roles very well – Álvarez is suitably cynical (and holds his own secret about his appearance), while Javivi provides the comic relief, persistently asking Arribas for advice on matters of the heart – his latest ladyfriend has just turned out to be a transsexual. Some of this is pretty funny, if slightly at odds with the more serious tone elsewhere.
The film is much more interesting when focusing on Lola Otero and her desperate quest to maintain her artificial looks while killing those women blessed with natural beauty. Director Miguel Bardem provides a series of flashbacks to Lola’s childhood – a miserable time that consisted of daily abuse by the other kids in her convent school for her horrific appearance (we never see Lola’s face during these scenes), culminating with a viscous gang rape. As an adult, Lola is played by stunning ex-model Elia Galera, who provides a enjoyably moody performance as this bitter woman, who engages in casual sex to convince herself that she is truly is beautiful, while plotting her acts of murder.
Unfortunately it all comes unstuck during a heavy-handed climax set at the latest Miss Spain contest, where Lola intends to commit her final crime in front of a worldwide audience. Arribas and Pelayo plan to use the doctor who keeps Lola topped up with the beauty injections as bait, but things don’t go to plan and pretty soon Lola is up on the podium with a machine gun, ready to blow away the swimwear-clad contestants. We finally see the true Lola – cue some sub-Elephant Man prosthetics – and Bardem tries to deliver an unconvincing message about true beauty lying within. He would have been better off with a more consistent tone, but there’s still quite a bit of fun to be had here.