[review by JA Kerswell]
Pål Øie's VILLMARK was litte seen outside of its native Norway. Although it borrows a number of North American slasher and horror motifs it finds its own voice with a sense of building dread and general unease, as it delves deep into the darkest recesses of the woods. Based on a notorious, unsolved true crime case from Finland, it is well acted and sporadically suspenseful and deserves to be better known.
|The worst work interview ever in VILLMARK.|
The setup is pretty simple. Five individuals head for a team-building exercise led by Gunnar (Bjørn Floberg), who is interviewing three new prospective colleagues for roles at his TV production company. He is joined by his long-term work mate Elon (Eva Röse) and the three newbies: the slacker Lasse (Kristoffer Joner); his childhood friend Per (Marko Iversen Kanic) and Per’s long-term crush Sara (Sampda Sharma). Gunnar tells the group that they will be hiking to a remote cabin, where he spent time when he was a boy. However, when they finally reach the cabin they find it open. Gunnar is unnerved, but thinks he must have mistakenly left the door ajar the last time he left.
Gunnar also warns the group not to go to a lake nearby, after Per discovers a tape recorder that has an old recording of Gunnar’s father warning him of the same thing back when he was a boy. Gunnar tells them that there is a legend that a German aircraft crashed into the lake during WW2 and was never recovered. He says that no one ever swims there.
However, during a team-building exercise, Lasse and Per veer off course and discover the lake and a seemingly abandoned tent. Inside they discover literature referring to the German army and WW2. Gunnar finds them at the lake and scolds them. Before leaving, Per pulls at a rope submerged in the water that reveals the corpse of a woman. Gunnar convinces them not to tell the others and to leave the body and not report it to the authorities until they return to the cars four days later. Already somewhat eccentric, the group become frustrated and then increasingly concerned by Gunnar’s erratic behaviour. They also begin to suspect that there might be someone else out in the woods ...
|There's something - or someone - out there in the dark woods in VILLMARK.|
Øie’s film wears its influences on its sleeve. The lake setting is pure FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Whereas the remote cabin and the discovery of a vintage tape recorder recall THE EVIL DEAD (1981). However, the film that it is most often compared to is THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999). VILLMARK has little of the kinetic energy of the first two films, but the long shadow of the latter is very much felt. Unlike many other horror film-makers of the time, Øie rejects the use of found footage for a more traditional technique. Yet, the Norwegian woods make a fantastically creepy backdrop for the story to unravel. Those expecting a straight out slasher movie may be disappointed (the COLD PREY films (2006, 2008, 2010), also from Norway, satisfy more on that front). This is a slow burn; which allows the characters to breathe and showcases some strong performances. Ultimately, the revelation of what is really going was, for me at least, a little underwhelming (apparently there were a number of endings filmed). However, it is a captivating and unsettling journey to get there. Øie also can’t resist a nod to THE LAST BROADCAST (1998) in the closing shot.
VILLMARK was partially influenced by the brutal murders of three teenagers in 1960, who were killed whilst sleeping in a tent next to Lake Bodom in Finland. The case remains unsolved to this day. The incident also inspired another slasher film: Taneli Mustonen’s BODOM (2016).
Norwegian cinema has had a higher international profile of late. Films that spin well known North American genres have been especially popular. Kristoffer Joner has found a growing international audience with big budget disaster movies such as THE WAVE (2015) and THE QUAKE (2018). Joner reunited with Øie followup horror movie SKJULT (HIDDEN) in 2009. Øie also made a tangential sequel VILLMARK 2 (2015).
VILLMARK was a hit with Norwegian audiences (with 150,000 cinema tickets sold on its 2003 release). It also received two Amanda Awards from the Norwegian International Film Festival.
female: 1 / male: 3
1) Female seen dead floating in the water
2) Male found with a knife in his neck
3) Male shot dead
4) Male drowned
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