10 April 2012

Clarky's Review: Hour of the Wolf

The most intriguing part of horror club is always the unveiling of that weeks choice. Two of us are left in the dark guessing at what you might bring with regards to previous form and your interests. Most of the time whilst you might not know the film itself, the style of film is not always that far from what you think, although Inside from Ally was a notable exception. Maybe because of this I should have expected Ally to bring a 1968 Swedish horror by the auteur Ingmar Bergman!

To be fair, I don't know if I would describe this as an out and out horror. There are some horrific scenes no doubt (especially at the denouement which throws a woman with no face, a birdman and all other sorts of atrocities onto the screen), and the film aims to unnerve and discombobulate the viewer, but it is not scary necessarily. However, given the fact that The Night of the Hunter is hailed as a horror film, then this has to make the list, as it is certainly more of a horror film than it is.

Focussing on a young couple in love on an isolated island (one of whom is a young Max Von Sydow), the film is preoccupied with how this affects the couple mentally. Devised as a companion piece to Persona (itself not a horror film, in fact Hour of the Wolf is Bergmans only horror) it was born during a period of illness for Bergman - and it shows. The film blurs the line between dreams, reality and madness, and as a viewer you never know where you stand. That's about it for plot. But that's not what this film is about, it's all about the mood. And Bergman captures that perfectly.

The lack of coherent plot, the sparing use of the score and the incredible use of the camera all aid to unsettle you as a viewer. Unfortunately the lack of plot and character development, whilst one of the films strengths, is also the films greatest weakness. It's very hard to sympathise or connect with either Johan or Alma. If Bergman had made Alma sympathetic and more likeable then it may have increased the tension and been more shocking when Johan loses it. That's not to say that she is particularly unlikeable (apart from reading Johan's private diary) but she just doesn't have enough screen time for you to develop a relationship with her.

As I noted earlier there are some undeniably incredible shots here. The dinner party scene is particularly unsettling as the camera spins wildly around the table of degenerates and weirdos. The use of sound is also incredible and as a viewer we have no idea what is happening. We hear snippets of discussion here and there, and sometimes not at all as the score overshadows the actors and we just see them mouthing the words. The end effect is that you have no idea what is happening and that is undeniably what Bergman is aiming at.

The scene with the woman and the young man on the beach are also unsettling, and the latter is particularly creepy - the score in this scene as he winds up his fishing rod is simply incredible and will have you on the edge of your seat. however, the film is almost just a collection of set pieces, and whilst each one has something to enjoy it is not the most fulfilling experience.

I'm glad Ally brought this to the table, but I'm not sure where I stand with this film. I enjoyed parts of it and felt it lacked in others. One one hand it is technically superb but seems to have no soul. Yet at the same time this is a film wholly about the human condition, madness and everything that this entails. It's all about the mood here and it succeeds on every level with that in mind. 

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