‘Post Mortem’. The Hungarian horror surprise of the festival.
Sitges 2020 ends and we have to review the best that a complicated edition has offered us but that can be described as a success, despite everything. Among all the terror proposals that the exhibition has offered us noteworthy is a small major production from Hungary, sold as the country’s first horror film. Although that statement is not true, it can be said that it is the best in its history, and we add that it is also the best of the festival.
It had been a long time since European terror offered such a carefree sample of what they will say, capable of combining the commercial trends of the day before yesterday with traditional gothic horror and fantasy with roots in local folklore and great authors like Nicolai Gogol. In addition, the fabled tone manages to converge with the most funereal and carefree macabre comedy, with the splatstick flavored with the Sam Raimi from ‘Drag Me To Hell’ (Drag Me To Hell, 2009) or the Peter Jackson from ‘Hold me those ghosts‘(The Frighteners, 1996).
Hungarian horror and supernatural adventure a la Raimi
A mix that it can be indigestible due to its peculiarities of tone, very coherent with the Slavic sensibility, Central European or Eastern cinema, but thanks to its eccentricity it manages to give a new air to the horror films that have filled the billboards in recent years. It has details from ‘Insidious’ (2010) and the ‘The Warren File’ saga (The Conjuring, 2013), but not only is it better than any later sample of its universe, but it also houses a central story with more substance than the classic family in haunted house to be exorcised.
The plot of ‘Post Mortem‘has some bits of historical period drama, as it revolves around a former World War I combatant turned deceased photographer after having a near-death experience. In a period of glimpsing the tunnel he sees a girl who seems to bring him out of a trance and save his life. During a fair he meets a girl who he recognizes as his supernatural savior and this invites you to go to work in his town that has been a victim of the Spanish Flu pandemic from the beginning of the 20th century.
A ‘Logan’ of horror movies
Instead of a haunted house, what Thomas finds is a whole town haunted and ravaged, in addition to misery, by rather harsh poltergeist phenomena. The connection he feels with the girl has a reason, since she also lived a near-death experience like him and they have a bond that makes them team up in the face of the supernatural threat. This aspect of the film, with a mature man and a girl with a “strange” relationship, has been questioned in many somewhat sensationalist, if not puritanical, readings.
The dirt is in the filter of the one who looks, what they say, and in the case of Thomas and Anna it is clear from the beginning that the interest of the photographer in the girl is to discover something that torments him, who she is and why she is showed up. This gives rise to a singular relationship, similar to that of ‘Logan’ (2017) or rather the one with Dan Torrance and Abra Stone in ‘Doctor Sleep’ (Doctor Sleep, 2019), only in this case the girl is an orphan and looks for a father figure in Thomas, while he immediately develops a rather tender and never uncomfortable protective instinct.
Another thing is the interpretation of Fruzsina Hais, who does not quite find a way in which her looks do not have a perpetual smile, which is also seen in some horror scenes, which can lead to a feeling of strangeness, but the trope of the man and the girl has more to do with that of a ‘Value of Law’ (True Grit, 2010) supernatural with a more sympathetic touch as they team up for their forces to help save the town.
Memory of the dead
Outside of this detail, other debates about the film suggested that it is not very clear what counts, when it is something quite simple, beyond the supernatural horror adventure that it proposes, to see that everything revolves around a starting idea similar to ‘Destino Final’ (Final Destination, 2000), in which death somehow claims a debt to Thomas, and the whole mystery revolves around it, leading to an enlightening climax, which connects directly with concrete images from the first sequence – the jets of water on the walls, a buried house and a mass grave – which are harmoniously connected to create a fairly evident existential cycle.
The development of the film has three well differentiated acts, an introduction with the most impressive visual and thematic element, memento mori photography as the engine of adventure, which extends what some recent samples offer such as’Dead still‘(2020), a brilliant macabre comedy miniseries, another 2014 film also with the same title, already pure supernatural horror, and, above all, the extraordinary short ‘Post Mortem Mary‘(2017), with which he has several things in common.
The day-to-day depiction of his treatment of the corpses is grotesque and creepy, with some dead with repulsive anatomical elements, such as the terrible man with the stretched neck. The use and handling of the bodies is as terrifying as sometimes full of black humor and gives way to the supernatural investigation of the strange couple, separated into small pieces of rural customs interspersed with almost steam punk methods to capture the specters, taking supernatural investigation into the realm of literary classics like William Hope Hodgson’s Ghost Hunter Carnacki.
From splatstick fantasy to expressionism
In fact, the film could be the first of a saga with the man and the girl, as a series of films that could irremediably recall the Russian supernatural series Gogol‘(2017-2019), which in turn had elements of’ Sleepy Hollow ‘(1999) present here as well. In the end, stories like ‘The Viyi‘or, above all’Evenings in a hamlet in DikankaGogol’s have a lot in common with the fantastic horror tales of Washington Irving, with towns ravaged by legends and superstitions and the little stories that emerge from that day to day.
In its last section is where the film goes out of control and the ghosts and beings show their anger with levitations, possessions and very macabre murders that do not even respect children. Ladies flying, blows against the wall, the mayor shaken and all kinds of phantasmagoria that alternates the gruesome and the smack that endow its crazy final stretch with an irresistible bizarre point that can find the heaven of the palate of spectators unfamiliar with this almost surreal tradition.
However, the film of Peter Bergendy He is modest in his budget and uses an immediate naturalism that can be a little short to capture his period portrait, but it is a necessary sample of the resurrection of the European fantastic, with ideas similar to the Estonian ‘November’ (2017), but that treasures a certain Soviet hooliganism of the witch hunters of films like ‘Gongofer‘(1992) and shares with both of them a desaturated and gloomy photography, which leads to the work of the darkest European artists, precisely from the time that it portrays.
Seeking the avant-garde in silenced traditions
There are prints that look like they came out of the pen of engraving illustrators and pencils such as Hugo steiner or Alfred Kubin, which in turn inspired German expressionist cinema itself, which influenced the feverish climax of the film, with figures in large spaces of a limbo that look like silent film pictures of horror. Perhaps this is also where we see the influence of Wan’s film more clearly, although it also has moments that seem to be taken from a certain scene from ‘Inferno’ (1980) from Dario Argento. It is a real festival.
Some have blamed the use of digital effects in some supernatural manifestations of ‘Post Mortem‘, but CGI tends towards simple rendering, using a motion diffusing effect that It is reminiscent of the old Victorian spiritist photo emulsion trick, which connects, again, with the Memento Mori theme. Many of these appearances are like crawling shadows with shapes that could appear in the work of the Pole Zdzisław Beksiński. In general, they have an aesthetic coherence that only adds to a surprising, chilling, grotesque and so funny film that it led to the screams of the audience of a dedicated Sitges.
In a moment of the fantastic in which there is so much exhausting analysis of what horror offers or does not offer, with voices determined to push towards an idea of the avant-garde that, no matter how hard it is sought, time always ends up leading to familiar surfaces , it is more necessary than ever to force the gaze towards a progression that is not forced, but rather appears, like this decidedly exotic vision with very new flavors, which some reject because of the packaging, ignoring that it is part of a cultural heritage just as opaque and minority as other new views that are easier to claim.