Celluloid Screams returned to the Showroom on the 23-25 October with an eerie ensemble of new and classic horror cinema treats (and tricks) to keep us entertained on these darkening autumn evenings. In the spirit of Halloween, I’ve chosen a couple of highlights to keep the momentum alive as we leave behind the spooky season of October and enter the very real horror of ‘almost Christmas’…
Goodnight Mommy (Dir. Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. Austrian: Ich seh, Ich seh)
Communicating my thoughts on this film was a challenge. Initially, I couldn’t get away from the raw, emotional response that this type of cinema commands, but after taking a few days to mull it over, I arrived at a more objective (I hope) standpoint. ‘Goodnight Mommy’ is a deeply uncomfortable, hard-to-watch film about loss and family trauma that will haunt you for weeks. Without giving too much away, there’s a twist that completely changes the tone of the film. A directorial debut from Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, ‘Goodnight Mommy’ is a tense, tragic tale of isolation that veers into torture territory at certain moments. What makes this film so unpalatable (and yet, at the same time, so captivating) is the painfully slow pace: the most unpleasant moments seem drawn out and borderline gratuitous. The visceral gore is, thankfully, designated to just a handful of scenes – but it’s enough. More than enough, perhaps. Some themes and ideas are underdeveloped and there’s a sense that the film could have benefitted from a ‘less is more’ approach, however, its boldness is admirable and I don’t doubt that Franz and Fiala will acquire a cult following after this nasty slice of ultra-modern European Gothic.
The Witch (Dir. Robert Eggers)
Set in a remote, rural stretch of puritanical New England, The Witch explores themes of isolation, the wilderness and what lurks beyond the ‘civilised’ domestic sphere. Set 70 years before the barbaric Salem Witch Trials, this film anticipates the teeming hysteria and widespread moral panic that would later spread throughout the region in the name of primitive superstition. Interestingly, Eggers doesn’t shy away from supernatural explanations. The plot centres on a character’s coming-of-age in the midst of family bereavement and thickening anxiety. Thomasin, the protagonist, struggles to reconcile her ‘duty’ as a daughter with her desire for freedom – freedom from the restraints of the ultimately patriarchal world of her parents’ faith, which threatens to reduce her to a mere commodity when the crops fail. (It is worth noting that the protagonist’s name is doubly significant: ThomaSIN / THOMASin). The Witch boasts stunning locations that shroud the film in darkness and obscurity. In sharp contrast to the clinical look of Goodnight Mommy, the cinematography only allows a furtive glimpse into what the shadows conceal (and reveal). There are moments of gore here, but overall, The Witch is a spellbinding psychological horror with a powerful message at its heart about the liberation of the self from social, moral and religious power structures.
Words: Carly Stevenson.