Its the third day of Grimmfest Easter Horror Nights, so here is our roundup of features screening today –
The Other Side (review by David Dent)
The haunted house film gets a welcome, and adult, shot in the arm in the debut feature from Swedish directors Tord Danielsson and Oskar Mellander.
Young couple Fredrik and his girlfriend Shirin move into a shiny new semi-detached house together with Fredrik’s son Lucas (Lucas’s mother died of cancer).
Fredrik lands a job out of town, which means that he’ll be away throughout the working week, leaving Shirin, who’s still slightly nervous around Lucas, to look after his son. Shirin settles into a routine but becomes increasingly rattled by her stepson’s behaviour, and the imaginary playmate he conjures up. She learns something the audience already knows from the movie’s prologue; that Kim, the son of the house’s previous occupants, went missing, preyed on by someone or something living in the derelict house next door. And Shirin, after doing a little detective work of her own, feels that history is about to repeat itself.
On the surface there’s nothing new about ‘The Other Side’ (or to give it the original Swedish title ‘Andra sidan’): it’s supposedly inspired by a true story and includes a dated chronology of events; the house in its shiny newness recalls the setting of ‘The Grudge’; and the later scenes of Lucas’s peril feel like scenes from ‘Insidious.’ Oh and didn’t you just know that Fredrik would be the doubting father?
But ‘The Other Side’ largely eschews the jump scares typical of spook house offerings in favour of concentrating, gratifyingly, on the awkward but thawing relationship between Shirin and Lucas (respectively Dilan Gwynn and Eddie Errikson Dominguez, both excellent), and how the initially rather distant stepmother becomes attached to the little boy through adversity. Any overtly horrific scenes are largely saved for the last reel; a wise move as it capitalises on their capacity to unsettle and allows the drama in the rest of the movie to unfold more clearly and, in its favour, intensely.
Mara (review by David Dent)
Architect Andrey (Semyon Serzin) is a young man whose marriage to musician Olya (Marina Vasileva) has disintegrated following a home invasion incident where she was raped but where he managed to escape; an act of cowardice that has tortured him ever since. On the advice of a work colleague, he visits a new age medium, Mara (Aleksandra Revenko) who prescribes a mushroom which will erase his wife’s memory. In lieu of payment, she asks Andrey and Olya to stay at her apartment while Mara is away, as she needs someone to keep an eye on her banks of ‘shrooms.
All goes according to plan: Olya initially forgets the trauma and the couple, reunited in love, settle down to life as flatsitters, despite the odd intrusion of a horse (of which more later) and a guy who, Mara explains, pops in to look at the archives once a month.
But the path of true love never runs smoothly. Olya, whose stress levels are heightened because of her preparation for a one-woman concert (she’s ditched her band and if you’d heard them you’d agree with the career choice) starts losing it again, and Andrey, in a nod to C.S. Lewis, finds another apartment behind the wardrobe in Mara’s flat; and yes there is a Mr Tumnus moment where someone turns into a horse (ok not a deer but I’m still quite pleased with the literary connection).
Underneath the glow in the dark psychedelics and dream-within-a-dream antics, ‘Mara’ remains thin stuff. It may base its story on Slavic folklore, but any attempt to add such a layer of sophistication cannot disguise the overall nastiness here, with its woman-as-rape-victim and manipulative witch themes and a male lead who’d rather erase his ex wife’s trauma than deal with it. Added to which this Russian movie has been dubbed so woefully that the viewer is transported back to the worst of foreign cine-horror of the 1970s; which appropriately is where this rubbish is best relocated too.