Monday, February 1, 2010

Norwegian horror spotlight: Skjult

Norwegian horror used to be such a mixed bag of candy, and I guess it still is, but overall, I feel the quality has been improving since the release of Villmark. This modern retelling of the Norwegian physiological horror masterpiece "De dødes tjern" or "The Lake of the Dead" maybe wasn't the scariest, but it had some pretty good moments what horror is concerned, for example there was a scene where someone (or something) tries to strangle one of our heroes through his tent. From an effect standpoint, it wasn't anything special, but the sheer simplicity of the horror paired with pretty good acting made it an image that sticks to my mind even now, almost seven years later.

Simple, and disturbing

You could say this movie opened a lot of doors, and paired with Norwegian cinema in general starting to work its hardest to not suck in the mid-to-late 00's, this meant that good horror would eventually be made. After faffing about with Friday 13th wannabes like Fritt Vilt (Cold Prey internationally) for a while, Norwegian filmmakers decided it was time to be original again. Don't get me wrong, the first "Fritt Vilt" wasn't bad, and the visuals were properly grim and gritty, like horror movies had to be in the 00's, but it, and it's sequel(s) were cookie-cutter slashers, and by that virtue not very exciting. Of course, they're good compared to the less fortunate examples, chief among them, Rovdyr (Manhunter internationally,) which despite it's pretty cool poster was an absolute snorefest, like most slashers deprived of sympathetic characters, but, unlike most slashers, gifted with killers so one-dimensional they make Jason look like Don Vito Corleone.

So, why this little recap on what's what in new Norwegian horror? Call it an introduction to the movie I want to talk about, a movie that has the same main character as Vilmark, the reawakening of Norwegian horror mentioned above. Yes, our friend Kristoffer Joner rejoins us in this somewhat different slasher, Skjult. Or "Hidden," not to be confused by Hanecke's film with the same name. Skjult follows the story of Kai Koss as he returns to his childhood home after the death of his abusive mother. Kai was flat-out tortured and isolated by his mother as a child, but escaped. Now that this hellish harpy is dead, Kai plans to burn down his (excessively creepy) childhood home. All would be well, hallucinations and general creepiness notwithstanding, except a string of murder rocking the little town. Kai is left wondering if his mother found a new victim after his escape, a victim who now rages free after years of torture. It's also possible that it's all in his mind, and the killer is him.

So yes, basically, it's a slasher viewed from an outsiders viewpoint. We see teens get drunk in the abandoned house, and some time later we see what's left of them, but we don't get the standard "hey, let's go to Mrs. Murderslash' abandoned orphanage and get wasted"-feel to it. In general, the movie is more about KK, as he's nicknamed, as he tries to figure out if he's going crazy, or if there's really someone out there. All the while avoiding suspicion for the multiple murders, of course.

"Hey gang, let's go there"
The story has its weak sides, most notably there's a bit of idiot plot going on, but mostly in minor details, except, of course, that KK would be much better off not going to the creepy house where multiple people have been killed in the middle of the night to investigate something, or being suspicious in general, but it wouldn't be any fun if we had any hard evidence that the killer actually isn't KK.

You see, as a genre savvy horror movie fan, this movie made me chase my tail quite a bit. The idea of the protagonist being the killer without knowing it isn't a new idea, and this movie teased the idea mercilessly. We're given some hints to the fact that the killer is in fact a separate individual from KK, but most of them can be chalked up to an unreliable narrator anyway, and when our hero confronts the killer, and does a Marx Brothers Mirror Routine with him, it doesn't exactly get more clear. Now, the ambiguity makes the movie fairly exciting, I'm left wondering if the movie wants me to think the killer is real or not, and if he ends up being real or not. In the end, you can say we get our closure, but if you subscribe to the "KK is major-leauge dancing mad," I guess there's not really anything to debunk it in the end. Of course, it's all interpretation.

I personally think this movie will appeal to anyone who's into a little deconstruction, although I guess more standard slasher fans can also get their jollies without much of a problem. Of course, it's probably a more entertaining movie if you don't mind a little ambiguity in your hack slash murder fun, but it's pretty creepy regardless.

Why did it have to be dolls?

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