Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow featured three films highlighted by powerful, mysterious female characters for its March 2nd screenings. These films ranged from subtle and understated to violent and gory.
The Rusalka (AKA The Siren)
Writer/director Perry Blackshear’s The Rusalka (retitled The Siren for its U.K. release), his follow-up to his terrific debut They Look Like People, is a hypnotic tale with a folkloric, dark fairy tale vibe. This slow-burn creature feature wisely presents its monster both dangerous and sympathetic, recalling the approach of the classic Universal monster movies.
Tom (Evan Dumouchel) is a mute man who comes from a sheltered, religious background. He takes time away from his church at a remote lake house, which is an interesting choice, considering that he stopped swimming after a childhood accident in the water that cost him his voice. There he meets Al (MacLeod Andrews), whose husband drowned in the lake, one of many recent deaths in that body of water. Al is staying there to try and solve what he feels is a mystery surrounding his spouse’s tragic demise. Meanwhile, a woman named Nina (Margaret Ying Drake) swims to the cabin and strikes up conversations with Tom, who becomes captivated by her. As Tom’s feelings toward Nina grow stronger, the church’s hold on him seems to start slipping away, and Al begins to suspect that Nina, who is constantly swimming in the lake, may know something about his husband’s drowning.
Dumouchel, Drake, and Andrews were also the main stars of They Look Like People, and here, as they did in Blackshear’s debut, they give moving, gripping performances. Drake is superb as the enigmatic Nina, and she portrays her character’s conflict between her dark impulses and her passionate desires beautifully. Dumouchel gives a top-notch turn in a wordless performance, in which his body language and facial expressions speak volumes. Andrews is super, too, inhabiting his character with a sadness that feels heartbreakingly real.
Blackshear, who also lensed The Rusalka, paces this slow-burn chiller splendidly, balancing a sense of dread and unease with an awkward, uneasy romance that viewers can’t help but root for, no matter how doomed its outcome might seem.
(4.5 / 5)
Freaks takes a stripped-down approach to superhero origin stories, focusing on character development and drama rather than big-budget special effects, and delivers a winning, engaging effort by co-writers and co-directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein. The film also features an outstanding performance by its young child star, Lexy Kolker, as Chloe, who has been raised inside of her house by her paranoid dad (Emile Hirsch). He tells her that evil people await should she ever leave their home. Ice cream truck driver Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern) seems too tempting to not visit at least once, though, and when he and Chloe meet, danger aplenty indeed sets in. The little girl has powers that would make her persecuted and hunted down by certain agencies should she be found out. Freaks plays in the science fiction/fantasy realm of such mutant forerunners as The X-Men, while zeroing in a bit more than other such cinematic efforts on a strong coming-of-age story, as well.
(4 / 5)
The Witch: Part 1 — The Subversion
Another film telling a tale of a young girl with mutant powers is South Korea’s The Witch: Part 1 — The Subversion, written and directed by I Saw the Devil scribe HoonJung Park. This effort doesn’t have the restraint of Freaks, opting instead for a violent, bloody, action overdose in its telling of high school student JaYoon (DaMi Kim in an impressive debut), whose memory of being experimented on and held captive by a shadowy agency has been blocked since young childhood. When her friend MyungHee (MinSi Go) persuades JaYoon to go on a nationally televised talent show, JaYoon shows off a magic trick that tips off rival baddies to her true identity. This leads to a special-effects showdown, where fists, bodies, and inanimate objects go flying, and bloodshed galore is on display. Though there is plenty to enjoy with The Witch: Part 1 — The Subversion, a problem I had with it is that it doesn’t really give viewers a protagonist for whom to root. Once JaYoon lets loose with her superpowers, she seems no more morally upstanding nor heroic than the many villains who wish to bring her down. As readers might guess from the movie’s title, the ending is left wide open for a sequel.