From Russia with gore
Horror and fantasy films have been a constant anathema when it comes to Russian cinema and the sheer suggestion that something involving impending peril could be considered as entertainment continues to be frowned upon there. Consequently, domestically produced genre movies remain condemned to the margins of the mainstream. Whilst savvy to his home country’s apathy to the horror genre, musician/writer/director/editor and general all-rounder, Pavel Khvaleev, banded with eight friends to self-fund his second feature film, III, penned by his wife, Aleksandra Khvaleeva.
Essentially dissecting the fear of losing a loved one and how said fear ultimately hold us hostage, III transports us to the midst of a deadly epidemic as it wipes out a rural European village. Shortly after the death of their mother, two sisters, Ayia and Mirra, are left to look after one another but when Mirra falls victim to the plague, Ayia supplicates the assistance of a local priest who happens to be acquainted with shamanistic magico-religious practices. He believes he holds the cure to Mirra’s ailments by immersing Ayia into her sister’s subconscious mind where she must find and kill the deepest of fears that manifest themselves in the form of monstrous evil spirits.
The ritual itself is a harrowing one to witness, replete with a screwdriver hammered straight into the back of the skull, and the graphic gore on display in the dreamlike sequences is disturbingly first-rate. I still have a problem getting my head around the fact that the special effects wizardry at work comes from the hands of Evgenia Zakharova who took an FX crash course mere months before the shoot.
The film’s biggest achievement is just how damned polished the whole things looks given the modest budget they managed to rustle up and it really does put many a Hollywood blockbuster to shame. Shot in Germany and Russia, Igor Kiselev’s cinematography, combined with Khvaleev’s lavish post-production editing, muster up immaculate ‘portraits’ of the mid-20th century. Khvaleev actually cited Silent Hill as a particular point of reference and this influence certainly manifests itself in the dream sequences. The high concept visuals are zealously bolstered by Khvaleev’s extensive musical experience (in the electric outfit, Moonbeam) as he provides an arresting and sinister score that both encapsulates and invigorates the whole tone of the world created in III.
Whilst the astounding visuals and score are simply stainless, the same sadly cannot be said of the script that vitiates all the elbow grease involved. It’s not that Khvaleeva’s story is particularly poor but it comes across as though she was trying to be more ambitious than she really needed to be. The end result finds us scratching our noggins at a lackadaisical and somewhat disorienting narrative. Nonetheless, whilst no professional actors were hired for the making of this film, they surprisingly raise the bar somewhat and really make the most of what they are given to work with.
Narrative flaws aside, the film is absolutely essential viewing for the visuals and score alone as they are as revolutionary as they come. III might not have proven to be Khvaleev’s magic number but, should a superior script fall onto this disgustingly talented director’s lap, there’s not a doubt in my mind that he’ll conjure up some more of his visual pizzazz and have us all hankering for much, much more.
Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)