SEPTEMBER 28, 2011
SOURCE: STREAMING (SCREENER)
I can’t recall if I had the chance to see Sennentuntschi: Curse Of The Alps at Fantastic Fest and opted for another movie (or rest/food at the Highball), and if I did I wish I had taken it. Not only was it one of the better horror movies of the lineup, but I could have immediately turned to my seat neighbor and discussed it, since I’m not sure if I “got” everything that went down in the film. Also, I might have had time to watch it again (maybe on the plane or something), but now with Shriekfest starting up and my DVR already half full from the new season, I just don’t have that option (that it’s in another language keeps me from putting it on in the background and listening, too).
As with Revenge: A Love Story, it’s the fractured timeline that caused me some confusion, coupled with the fact that I’m seeing too many movies in such a short period of time, often while very much tired. My brain is just not equipped to handle two hour jigsaw-puzzle narratives at this current time; something like Saw IV might actually cause an aneurysm if I tried watching it for the first time today. Luckily the subtitles were the best I’ve seen out of the fest – I can’t even imagine trying to watch this one if they were as bad as Penumbra or whatever.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not a particularly complicated story – it’s just HOW the story is told that confuses things. There are two timelines (three if you count the bookending modern day scenes; the bulk of the story takes place in 1975), but they overlap a bit, and even with Saw-esque flashback montages near the end (even set to pounding guitars) helping clarify the timeline a bit, I’m still not sure where all of the pieces fit. If someone wanted to edit the film in chronological order for me, I’d be most indebted to them.
But in a way that just makes the film’s merit even more impressive – I was consistently engaged by it, despite what seemed like an overlong running time and a bare minimum of horror elements. It’s actually more of a mystery, with the town’s one cop trying to figure out the connection between a dead priest and a girl (the Sennentuntschi, played by the gorgeous Roxane Mesquida from Rubber) before the townsfolk find her and lynch her for what she allegedly did. Meanwhile, a trio of farmers get drunk on Absinthe and make a sex doll of sorts, which according to some tradition will turn into a living girl if they say the correct chant. Also, the youngest of the three appears to be the same dimwitted boy who a little girl saw 35 years later.
In other words, it’s not the most traditional plot for a film. Even if you can figure out a twist or two, the script wisely takes its time intriguing us with seemingly random events while building up sympathy for its characters, making it much easier for us to go on the ride when the action ramps up and things start falling into place. The farmers aren’t the most likable guys in the world, but the cop is a terrific lead, torn between his desire to solve the case and also be less of an outcast in the community (no one seems to respect his “authority”). His relationship with Mesquida is also interesting, especially once we learn that she’s essentially a living sex doll (OR IS SHE?).
Oh, and there’s a shot of a penis. I swear, I’ve seen more junk in the past week than I have in my entire life (not counting my own). There was a short attached to You’re Next called All Men Are Called Robert that featured a naked dude running full speed through a forest, something that consistently terrified/astounded me. I’m afraid that the damn thing will brush uncomfortably against the bathroom sink counter when I get out of the shower, but this dude is sprinting around with branches and rocks and all sorts of potentially dangerous things – how did they find this guy? Juan of the Dead and Revenge also had “something for the ladies”, and I’m sure Human Centipede II did as well (didn’t see it, but with the main character being fond of masturbating with sandpaper, I’m sure his member made at least a cameo). Many of the others had gags built around urinating, now that I think of it… what the hell, programmers?
Back on point, as with every film at the fest, it was wonderfully shot. I’m so used to seeing bad indie horror films at festivals that also look like ass thanks to sub-par digital camerawork and/or transfers, it was nice to go in and see a bunch of films that, regardless of whether or not I liked them, were all shot professionally and presented with the utmost care. Even Livid’s first twenty minutes, which had to be projected off a screener blu-ray, looked better than what I even get at AMC half the time. Very few of the films were on 35mm, which is a shame, but at least I wasn’t suffering through crushed blacks and pixelated faces for four days.
Even more of a nice surprise, this is actually the first horror film from director Michael Steiner, who has mostly helmed dramas throughout his 15+ year career (this is his 6th or 7th feature). Again that pesky “lack of time” threatens to make it impossible, but I’d love to check out one of his other films if anyone can recommend one over the others, though not until I watch at least one of Nakamura’s pre-Boy And His Samurai efforts. It’s always nice to see someone trying a horror film after having a career far removed from the genre, as I think they can bring the sort of “fresh take” on the genre that we could always use. And it very rarely occurs; I can’t imagine Cameron Crowe or John Madden taking a break from their dramas and romances to go make a slasher movie for Screen Gems anytime soon. Usually it’s the other way around, with guys like Cronenberg more or less dismissing horror once they make a few well received non-genre films.
Hopefully this will find release in the States soon. It’s one of the most interesting movies I saw out of the FF lineup, and I’d love to give it another look and see if a few more of those pieces fall into place (I can almost guarantee I’ll feel dumb for not having it all figured out after one viewing). Also, while I didn’t really discuss it much, a lot of the films I saw failed to stick the landing; starting strong but falling apart in their third acts (Livid and Lonely Place To Die being the most prominent offenders), so the fact that this one started off good and kept my interest the entire time was much appreciated.
What say you?