Friday, May 22, 2015

This Horsehead is Screwed on Backwards: A Movie Review

*full dislcosure: an online screener of this film was provided by the distributor, Artsploitation Films.

Director: Romain Basset

Writers: Romain Basset and Karim Chériguène.

Cast: Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux, Catriona MacColl, Gala Besson, Murray Head and Fu'ad Aït Aattou.

Romain Basset's feature film debut, Horsehead, is conceptually and stylistically cool, but its story makes you work at piecing things together—if you're not careful, you could miss the mark. The film follows in the tradition of other dreamscape horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Cell, with the protagonist purposely falling into a dream state in order to solve a mystery and/or defeat the enemy. In Horsehead, the lovely Jessica, who studies the power of lucid dreaming, grapples with nightmares. While attempting to control her dreams, she unearths a sinister family secret. However intriguing, this film will have you wishing that you were in your own lucid dream, taking hold of the reins, so you could gain a better understanding of what is happening.

Horsehead begins inside one of Jessica's (Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux) nightmares. Our protagonist lies paralyzed on a bed while disturbing images, including a strange fake horse head, atop a human body, appear. After waking, Jessica is informed of her grandmother's death, and she plans to attend the funeral at her estranged mother's request. Tension quickly mounts between mother and daughter after Jessica's arrival to the family home; it becomes apparent that part of the hostility is due to the fact that Jessica doesn't know who her biological father is. It's not hard to figure out where this is leading—a mother's resentment of her daughter—an unknown father. What could this family secret possibly be? When you think you've figured it out early on, the story loses its grip. . .for a while.

The majority of the action takes place in Jessica's dreams which are accompanied by the horse-headed human and a lone wolf protector. The film tells us that, in dreams, a horse can represent a mother figure, a guide to the beyond, or it can be the messenger of death. Jessica's grandmother, Rose, (Gala Besson) warns her to “follow the wolf and run away from the horse. Always.” At first it isn't clear what the wolf represents, but in the end it seems like the animal is a version of Jessica herself. Either way, the horse-headed figure and the wolf are pinned against each other, ending in a battle that does not live up to expectations. Jessica's dreams are also riddled with religion and the occult; these elements help to explain her family's past and push the creep factor into another direction. While this aspect of the story is necessary, it is slightly overdone and too much is given away too soon.

Where Basset does an excellent job is in maintaining a dark, creepy atmosphere throughout the dream sequences, and nicely working unsettling elements into the scenes when Jessica is awake. The characters are constructed in ways that make it hard to tell who is on the level, adding even more mystery to the puzzling plot. Unfortunately, some of the scenes, particularly the waking scenes, are quite boring and the pacing could have been sped up.

Also, the film is plagued with horrible dub step music. At first it seems like it's there to create a more freaky dreamscape, but it isn't all that convincing; the music interrupts the story and, besides, does anyone dream in dub step? Given a second thought, the music could intentionally be used to throw the viewer off the story's scent. If that's the case, mission accomplished—this viewer couldn't stand the music and some interest. As Jessica at one point says, “silence is golden.”

The actors are generally on point in this film, but no truly stand out performances, other than that of Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux's breasts. Tits aside, Pointeaux is fairly believable in this role—impressive for someone with a short acting resume. My guess is that it won't remain short for long. Catriona MacColl (The House by the Cemetery, 1981) is solid as Jessica's mother, as is Jessica's stepdad, Murray Head (Sunday Bloody Sunday, 1971, and the 80's one hit wonder “One Night In Bangkok”). Dreams are often exaggerated, so it's hard to get a definite read into the quality of acting in the film, but the cast certainly warrants a passing grade.

As a fan of most things dark and weird, you want to love this film—the atmosphere is effective and the horse and wolf motifs are interesting. That said, this film is not as riveting as the trailer would have you believe. It does, however, exercise your mind, forcing you to piece the story together, and some audiences will appreciate that. It will be interesting to see what direction Romain Basset goes in as he certainly possesses some creative talent. Unfortunately, even with the twisting plot and wicked effects, Horsehead falls short of the triple crown due to its lack of clarity—too many questions go unanswered.

Horsehead earns a 6 out of 10.

- By Kenna Rae -

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