A haunting image from Austria’s Mother Superior has been used on much of the promotional material for this year’s FrightFest at the Glasgow Film Theatre, suggesting the film is one to anticipate. Its opening credits certainly impress. Sweeping closeup shots capture cast and creatives’ names typed onto paper strips attached to tapes, stationery, and other objects scattered around what looks like a police desk. But they do mislead us a little with genre.
Protagonist Sigrun (Isabella Händler), a nurse, then arrives in a dilapidated gothic mansion – Rosenkreuz Manor – greeted at the foot of a spiral staircase by a caretaker in a subverted, eerie Sound of Music homage. She has arrived to take care of Baroness Heidenreich (Inge Maux), the elderly recluse who lives here and who has advertised for home help.
An unsettling, sombre atmosphere is established early on as Sigrun listens to strange noises in the house at night and explores its crumbling, dark corners. And just as we get the impression she may be a fairly one-dimensional character who will no doubt encounter gruesome secrets, a new layer to the film is revealed as we enter its second act: Sigrun is not who she appears to be and her employment at the house is more calculated than first presented.
The film soon emerges as an example of a popular horror subgenre – the mixing of Nazi history with the occult – and its highlights are Sigrun’s cool-hued pagan-inspired visions that create the feel of a highly stylised music video. More of these creepy collages would have worked well.
As it is though, the film begins to lag. So much of the potential for suspense and discovery is betrayed by lengthy dialogue scenes in quiet rooms. Engagement is amped up in a climactic scene of physical conflict, and the film’s framing device of police interview tapes does provide an interesting payoff. However, while the film is often aesthetically rich with gothic fairy tale-inspired imagery, its narrative loses its initial grip and eventually drags.
Screened as part of Glasgow FrightFest 2023