Based on real-life events that took place in 2005 and became part of the Chilean collective consciousness, the social drama Niñas Araña (Spider Thieves) examines the motivations behind crimes committed by three teenage girls in Santiago’s affluent neighborhoods of Vitacura and Las Condes.
Thirteen year-olds Avi, Cindy, and Estefany are friends living in a now-eliminated slum at the outskirts of Santiago, known as “La Toma de Peñalolén.” The girls aspire to the celebrity and wealth they’ve seen glorified in magazines, yet, their lives in marginal conditions on illegal settlements make upward mobility a distant dream. Grasping at their coveted lifestyle, the young women opt to steal clothes and belongings from apartments in affluent neighborhoods. They begin scaling balconies to get inside the homes, earning them the nickname niñas araña (spider-girls).
Director Guillermo Helo cites the original case and a successful stage play that first dramatized the events as influences for his film. Through cinema, Helo’s rendering hones in on subtle performances and illustrates the high-risk thefts in thrilling sequences. Cinematographer Mauro Veloso harnesses the rugged beauty of the shantytown location and juxtaposes it with the other, brighter, side of Santiago for a striking visual contrast.
The Peñalolén slum was created in 1999, when 1,750 homeless citizens took over nearly 60 acres of privately owned land. News of the girls’ thefts spreads as the slum’s residents are fighting for affordable housing, inadvertently making the niñas araña symbols in a larger battle.
A dash of dark humor in this trailer – like when the girls complain that the press dubbing them “spiders” is too ordinary for them– makes for an entrancing first look at this thorny story about class in Chile.
Niñas Araña screened at the Lima Film Festival in 2017 and opened in Chilean theaters in May of last year. Its most recent screening in the US was courtesy of the Chicago Latino Film Festival in April 2018.