On occasion, I get the privilege of watching a film that doesn’t really come at you as a traditional horror film, but as I watch, things change. If the movie has a good story, direction and acting, I’m inevitably drawn into the lives of the characters, and the horror becomes apparent, hidden in the trappings of what these poor characters endure as their everyday lives.
The Looking Glass, distributed in the U.S. by BrinkVision, was one such film. Produced largely by the same creative minds as the surreal Tin Can Man, it’s a film that requires a little patience, but if you stick with it and really let yourself get into the flick, it has the power to really make you consider what “horror” really is.
We start off with a young boy named Paul, privy to his thoughts and childlike fantasies and fears via voiceover. Paul lives with his uncle (it’s unclear what happened to his parents), who seems like a pretty jovial guy…except for when he’s drunk (which we kinda think is often), at which times he seems to relish knocking the shit out of little Paul, pathetically coming to apologize after sobering up. It’s no surprise to us then that Paul has a pretty deeply developed fantasy life, partly because there seem to be no other children in his life, and partly as a defense mechanism against the emotional duality he suffers at the hands of his uncle. Trust, sadly, is the first thing to go in a dysfunctional situation such as this. We’re brought into his “hiding place”, where he fights all alone as a brave warrior against…well, them. Who they are isn’t clear, but they seem to deserve the business end of his toy burp gun as he hides survivalist-style in his wooded sanctuary.
Flash forward to adulthood, and we again find Paul cautiously plodding his way through life, still quiet, still timid, still afraid. His girlfriend, Clare, is extremely pregnant, and we meet her in tears; her mother Agnes has arrived at their little cottage in the countryside, and if her own daughter’s reaction to this is any indication, we kinda expect mom to be a bit sinister. We’re not disappointed; mom is an imperious, prudish-seeming woman, but with no compunction about saying exactly what she thinks, regardless of how hurtful or crude it may be (think Mary Poppins crossed with House). Paul is visibly intimidated by the woman, and her questioning of his ability as a father (going as far as to show very graphic films to him of natural childbirth, “to help prepare him for fatherhood”) does little to assuage his fears.
As the story moves forward, Paul and Clare discover an area in the local park where homosexual prostitutes service visiting military personnel, and Paul becomes quite obviously interested in the trysts, going as far as to follow and spy on one of the hustlers and his client. Between Agnes’ constant pressure and the pyromaniac meanderings of “the Burned Man”, a patient of hers (Agnes is apparently a therapist or mental health professional of some kind; nah, that’s not spooky), Paul finds himself drawn more and more to the local park, his curiosity getting the better of him…in more ways than one…
I was very impressed with pretty much every aspect of this film; it’s a beautifully shot and cleverly written modern fairy tale with a deep darkness to it. You could sit for hours and plumb the depths of the script: Is Paul afraid of parenthood? Is he discovering repressed homosexuality? Was he abused by his uncle? The possibilities abound. Technically, the film was shot in an almost dreamlike quality, every scene something that could have sprung from any nightmare; day or night, indoors or out, the lighting and camera work was excellent, keeping the same feeling of fear and discomfort throughout. Acting-wise, I’ll say that the talents of Patrick O’Donnell as Paul are masterful; his believability in the role of a man who has never shaken his childhood fear is absolutely without question. Even though I recently saw him perform another role, all concept of him as an actor disappeared quickly; he simply was Paul. Equally impressive were the supporting roles: Natalia Kostrzewa as his girlfriend, Clare; completely convincing as a pregnant, emotional, and somewhat fearful young woman, and Sanne Hulst, as creepy mother-in-law Agnes, exuded as much wrongness and intimidation as any other villain that you can think of. Lastly, I have to mention Michael Parle’s small performance as a military man, Private Clay; although his screen time is small, he makes the most of it, his nuanced expressions and general threatening aura cause him to steal almost every scene he’s in.
There’s only a couple of things you’d call special effects, and very little visceral imagery, but the general feeling of…well, just bad was enough to keep me interested (and creeped out).
This movie is just weird; that’s not a bad thing, at least not to me. As with Tin Can Man, you have to invest yourself into it somewhat. Make no mistake, it’s surrealism and seeming lack of logic will seriously put off any viewer that can’t get themselves to that place, so you can’t say I didn’t warn ya. However, if you’re one of those that can; if you’re a fan of the films of David Lynch or Terry Gilliam, you’ll find a gold mine here. As I said, it doesn’t come at you like a horror movie, but if you’re paying attention, you’ll find the point that I did:
Paul’s whole life has been a horror movie.
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