Our final scary movie review and ranking for this year! And this time out we’ve got a freaky one, to say the least. My wife and her friend went to see this in the theater last summer, and when she came back she said I had to see it (or did she say I had to see it to believe it?). Anyway, I immediately put it on my horror movie to-do list.
Dani is a psychology grad student whose sister commits suicide in the opening scenes of the movie. A few months later, her boyfriend, Christian, an anthropology grad student, is being advised by his friends to drop Dani for being too needy and uninterested in sex. Christian doesn’t agree he should leave her, but you can tell he’s considering what his friends said.
One of those friends, Pelle, is Swedish, and is arranging a trip to his rural village in a remote area near the Arctic Circle, Halsingland (a real place, I looked it up), where the villagers still practice many quaint old customs. Christian and fellow grad students Mark and Josh are planning on traveling with him for a two-week visit to study the village during the height of summer, when there is nearly twenty-four hours of daylight. Christian intends to break up with Dani before leaving, but when Dani hears about the trip, she wants to accompany him and somehow he never finds the right time to break up with her before the departure date.
When they arrive at the village (along with two other anthropology grad students from London) after a four-hour drive north from the Stockholm airport, many of the village young people are in a field taking psychedelic mushrooms, and Dani and the others join them. Dani has a bad reaction, seeing a hallucination of her sister who had committed suicide. Later on, they meet the rest of the villagers and see where they live. Everything in the village is done communally, with meals eaten outside at long tables, and everybody aged 18 to 36 sleeping in beds in rows in a big barn. It all seems charming, and the villagers are endlessly patient with their visitors, explaining how their customs let them live in harmony with nature. Still, some things remain unexplained–such as a bear held in a cage, or the purpose of a certain sacred barn at one end of the village which nobody is allowed to approach.
The next day, they witness a gruesome ceremony where two elderly villages kill themselves by jumping from a high cliff onto a flat rock below. The graduate students are upset and the two London students wish to leave immediately. Christian and the other American grad students eventually accept the villagers’ assertion that this is a natural way of doing things, that the old people had reached the end of their lives and voluntarily killed themselves, and this was their way of returning to nature. If you’ve guessed this is not the end of the creepiness, though, you would be correct….
I really like the way this movie built up the weirdness of the village, with everything starting off so charming and fascinating, the villagers’ little costumes and singing and dances lulling the visitors, and only occasional oddities cropping up in such a way that the grad students can easily dismiss them, aided by their own predisposition as anthropology students to accept the strange customs. Only, at one point, it’s too late and they find themselves stuck with no way to leave what is essentially a murderous pre-Christian nature cult that has managed to survive in an isolated area until the present day. I’ve never seen The Wicker Man (maybe next Halloween?) but from what I’ve heard, this movie might be along the same lines. The movie also reminded me of the Witch (a movie I reviewed here), in that it took great care in authentically portraying the costumes, language, and built environment of a highly isolated community (in the Witch’s case, an early colonial settlement in Massachusetts). Let’s see how it rates!
Story/Plot/Characters— Dialogue is well-written and natural, and the plot is very effective. A lot of the horror in this movie comes from the deteriorating relationship of Dani and Christian, who don’t know if they can count on each other as the true horror of the village reveals itself. Their characters are fully rounded and the actors playing them are great. Supporting characters are pretty thin, though, with the other grad students coming across as little more than “the annoying guy” and “the black guy,” and the villagers “grandfatherly old man” or “teenage girl with the hots for the American visitor.” (3 points)
Special Effects–As mentioned, costumes and sets are top-notch. Not a lot of special effects, but there is some quite well-done gore. Actually, the movie strikes an interesting balance–I’d say the gore is fairly extreme, but it’s only briefly shown. In any case, it’s convincing. (1.5 points)
Scariness— Not really scary, exactly, but it does get under your skin. (1 points)
Atmosphere/Freakiness— This was a perfect movie to watch after the darkness of all the vampire films I saw in October. This movie was sunny and full of flowers and bright clothes, although despite that, it very effectively conveyed its own brand of cult-ish horror. In fact, I think I can safely say it’s one of the freakier films I’ve ever seen in my life. Full points here. (2 points)
Total=7.5 points (Excellent)