Dir: Tereza Nvotova; Cast: Natalia Germani, Eva Mores, Juliana Brutovska, Marek Geisbgerg, Jana Ol’hova, Peter Ondrejicka, Iva Bittova, Zusana Konecna; Czech Republic/Slovakia 2022, 108 min.
FAMU graduate, director/co-writer Tereza Nvotova (Filthy) comes to Locarno Film Festival with a passionate and enigmatic horror film unfolding in seven chapters, supported by an impressive cast and the oppressive camerawork by Federico Cesca.
When 30 year-old Sarlota (Germani) returns to her home village in the mountains, she unleashes an orgy of violence rooted in her turbulent repressed past. Sarlota is partly to blame for what happened in her childhood: unsettling opening scenes see her running away from an abusive mother, followed by her sister Tamara who dies in a tragic accident – leaving Sarlota with a life-long trauma of guilt.
But now she must deal with the present, and sort out the house inherited from her mother. Reconnecting with those left behind she meets up with Otilia (Bittova) and her daughter Helena (Brutovska), who seem pleased to welcome her back. But there is an air of savage mistrust and talk of witchcraft in this remote mountain location where rivalries still burn bright, particularly amongst the local women.
Sarlota hopes that an eccentric herbalist called Mira (Mores) will help her deal with a recent miscarriage. The two women become very close but Helena, who had Mira to herself until Sarlota turned up, is jealous of the intruder. Local rumour also has it that Mira was cast under a witches’ spell and lured into the woods with some other local children, and it soon emerges Mira is not really whom she appears to be. And when Zofa’s sons, Elo and Marto, go missing the finger is pointed at Sarlota, who is suspected of being a witch. The male villagers, led by the sadistic Tomasz (Geisberg) decide to hunt her down, but she still has one person on her side.
Nightsiren is certainly a beguiling fantasy drama with its lustrous visual allure rather let down by a structural over-complexity: The many subplots, flashbacks and mutating emotional pairings lend confusion to the already enigmatic storyline. Misty, nighttime ballet sequences featuring fairies frolicking in a languidly coruscating netherworld make for some melodramatic romanticism; but Nightsiren‘s startling imagery is hampered by a preponderance of confusing sub-plots and flashbacks, and the mutating emotional pairings only go to increase the complexity of a film which is already an enigma in itself. All that said, Nvotova has created something unique: a feature with the breath of an epic that soars relentlessly in an all-out journey to the stars and beyond. AS
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022