Newest Review: ... though I can't give it too high a rating because overall I still found it a bit unbelievable and dull. DVD released 2010, running time 10... more
"Nature is Satan's Garden"
Member Name: sunmeilan
Advantages: Attractive to watch, intriguing, shock factor
Disadvantages: Slow to get to the point, pretentious at times, some horrific scenes
An unnamed couple lose their only child while making love when he falls, unnoticed, from a window. Devastated by the death, the woman is hospitalised for some time, unable to cope with her grief. Her lover is a therapist and decides that he is better placed to treat her and forces her to leave hospital. He later decides to take her to a cabin in a secluded location, one where she has visited in the past and of which has now developed an irrational fear. Once there, things initially seem to improve, but over an undisclosed period, she begins to lose grip on reality once again and strange things begin to happen. What exactly is going on? Will the couple survive whatever appears to be holding influence over them? Will they survive full stop?
Before I go any further, if you haven't yet heard of this film, released just this year, you will probably want to know that it has been described by critics as an 'abomination' amongst other things. There has been outrage that the British Film Institute has allowed the film to be shown uncut. Why? There are a number of scenes, particularly towards the end of the film, that are seriously horrific. I watch a great deal of horror and am largely desensitized towards it these days, but what I saw made me feel sick and faint, so much so that I had to wait until the credits had rolled at the end of the film because I was afraid I would keel over. I do, however, believe that the British Film Institute was right to allow the uncut version; people should have the freedom to watch whatever they like. Plus, as much as the film has been criticised, it has also been highly praised. Just make sure you know that you are going to be watching a film that you could find very disturbing before you watch it.
Willem Dafoe plays the man and, although I am a little surprised that he took the role on in the first place (perhaps because he has worked with the director in the past?), there is no doubt that he gives it his all. Initially, it is hard to feel a huge amount of sympathy for his character, just because he doesn't seem to grieve in the same way that his wife/lover does. His concern for her, however, is palpable, although his apparent desire to control her is a little worrying. Dafoe gives a really powerful performance at all times during the film, but he really does come into his own towards the end when he gives in to the fear. Much of the time, he isn't really talking, but the pain is etched all over his rugged face and it really is easy to feel the fear and pain along with him. We do get to see rather a lot of him - it seems that he is naked in every other scene - but that is no great hardship, because he's still in great shape.
Charlotte Gainsbourg plays the role of the woman. She is an extraordinary woman to look at. She is incredibly thin, with a long, flat face and, as she is either grieving or raving for much of the film, she isn't looking at her best during this film. Yet she is mesmerizing. Her grief for her son is deeply painful to watch and the audience's sympathies immediately lie with her. And I think this is what helps make the film so disturbing to watch. Unlike most horror, where we're actually glad to see the ditzy big-boobed blonde have her head chopped off, we really come to care about the main characters in this film. This really is a stunning performance by Gainsbourg, who received a Best Actress award at Cannes Film Festival - I've never really seen her in anything before, but after this performance, I will certainly be looking out for more of her work.
This film is directed by Lars von Trier, famous for the Dogme95 movement and for sexually explicit images in his films. This one is no different. One of the first scenes shows sexual penetration, there are frequent scenes of sex and explicit masturbation throughout the film and, towards the end, there is a mutilation that actually has to be seen to be believed. And then there is the violence, including a vomit-inducing scene involving someone's calf and a mill-stone and more. It really is deeply shocking and the 18 rating is most definitely called for. I'm usually fairly laissez-faire about moderately under-aged children watching horror, but in this case, I would advise parents to insist on it. It probably sounds as though this is a deeply disturbing film that really isn't worth watching. It isn't all sex and violence though - in fact, there are long periods where there is relatively little going on.
Parts of the film are truly beautiful. The opening scenes, although showing a child's death, are filmed partially in slow motion in the snow and are mesmerizing. Other scenes, later in the film, in the forest, are also stunning, albeit slightly creepy, many involving tree branches. Von Trier has a way of panning across a scene, then zooming in on a specific object, and it comes across wonderfully. Much of the first three quarters of the film, apart from the death of the child, is very slow - there is a real feeling that something dreadful is going to happen, but there are few ideas of exactly what that is, giving the viewer the opportunity to enjoy the visuals. This could be a major disadvantage for some though - if you're overly impatient to get to the gory bits, then there is quite a long wait.
The one thing I really didn't like about the film was the mystical element, which I found hard to understand and a little bit pretentious. The woman had been writing a thesis that is something to do with the place of women in the 16th century, yet had somehow managed to turn things around so that she thought that the women deserved to be treated badly. Witchcraft and the stars came into it somewhere along the lines, along with 'the three beggars' - a deer, a fox and a crow. I really didn't completely follow what was going on here and I'm not sure I was really supposed to - I suspect that von Trier just wanted to confuse his audience. If so, he achieved his goal. I was left feeling that he had tried to be a bit too clever, therefore annoying me, and I think a great deal of people who aren't put off by the violence, could be put off by this element of the film.
The background music to the film is amazing apt and very creepy. The film is divided into chapters, one for each stage of the story, and the chapter name is written what looks like a blackboard with lots of chalk scrawls. I mention this because at times the music sounds a bit like a piece of chalk being scraped across a blackboard. At least some of it is Handel (Lascia ch'io pianga' from the opera 'Rinaldo') but I'm not sure whether it all is - I suspect it is largely the music at the beginning and the end, which is a lot more mellifluous that the rest of it.
The film has not yet been released on DVD, so I am unable to comment on any extras that may come with it.
I find myself hard pushed to say whether I enjoyed this film or not. However, there is no doubt that it is incredibly powerful, beautifully filmed and with stunning performances from Defoe and Gainsbourg. If you are even remotely squeamish, you should probably stay well clear of the film. Then again, if you don't mind well-made horror, it really is worth a watch - just be prepared to be more disturbed than usual. Four stars out of five.
The DVD is available on play.com for pre-order for £12.99.
Running time: 109 minutes
Summary: One for the iron-stomached only...