Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sunday horror!

“I can’t believe in a god who’s less merciful than I am.” A Swedish horror, PSALM 21 (2009) begins rather cackhandedly, as priest Henrik learns that his father – who was also in the clergy – has just died. While he is driving out of town to visit the coroner, his car breaks down, and so the stranded Henrik stays overnight with a local family who seem more than a bit weird. He is haunted by spectres of his dead relatives and Henrik sees others (a ghost boy and a spooky girl) become ghoulish creatures with a similarly demonic aspect.  

Is poor Henrik now tragically cursed by his own willingness to accept knowing his father’s murderer? This is an especially troubling act of forgiveness when his ‘priestly’ father was also a paedophile. A first movie for actor turned writer and director Fredrik Hiller, this hell–bound shock fest has ostensibly awkward, seemingly amateurish, performances that are actually good and entertaining attempts to ground the movie’s theatrics in a kind of sober improv reality. Henrik is on a journey into a ‘twilight zone’, that becomes increasingly surreal with revelations and rememberings (including oedipal incest?) of his own dark past.

Deliciously creepy, and sometimes close to genre parody – while skilfully avoiding too many humorous pitfalls, Psalm 21 does not always, or even often, make perfect sense, but its moody intensity is a welcome diversion from slick Hollywood standards of over-produced flashiness that conceals a thematic emptiness. Delusional rantings by one religious nutter here are more frightening than close attention by most evil serial killers. This is a quite well polished flick for a low-budget foreign production boasting many effective spectral montages.

The grand finale starts with a burning bible, and ends with an heretical yet heartfelt sermon, by Henrik to a baffled congregation, which results in him being dragged from the pulpit and unceremoniously expelled from his own church (simply for daring to speak the truth, of course). Oh, Jesus wept... 

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