Cambridge Film Festival Review: Dark Souls (Mørke Sjeler)

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The Pitch: Oily Vomit Of The Living Dead.

The Review: I will be honest, this, in nearly 100 reviews I’ve written, has been one of if not the most difficult one line pitches to write. Part of that is down to how much is going on in this quiet little Norwegian chiller, which while running to only just over an hour and a half covers an awful lot of territory in that time. The one substance in abundance in this movie is oil, but it’s not the only black entity around, as much of the humour is of the dark variety.  Dark Souls attempts to put a smile on your face as it drills into your brain, and it succeeds to a large extent in that endeavour.

We start with a young girl, Johanna (Johanna Gustavson), who is attacked by a man in an orange boiler suit with an electric drill and left for dead, found face down in the mud by the police who pronounce her dead and have her taken to the mortuary. This comes as a surprise to her loving father, Morten (Morten Ruda), who’s seen her walk in the door not moments earlier. But there’s something not quite right about Johanna any more, and she’s not alone. While detective Askestad (Kyrre H. Sydness) attempts to uncover the truth behind these mystery murders, and the local doctor (Jan Harstad) attempts to uncover the truth behind these rather lively corpses and their strange symptoms, Morten attempts to re-establish family life with Johanna as best as possible, but is slowly but surely drawn into the secret world behind it all.

Directors and writers Mathieu Petuel and César Ducasse obviously know their horror. There’s a deliberate, unhurried pace from start to end and, as with so many other effective horror movies over the years, the pacing is used to build tension and to unsettle the viewer. This isn’t your average American slasher, filled with jump cuts and loud bursts on the soundtrack in a vain attempt to summon up scares, everything here is designed more to pick at your nerves and unsettle, apart from the occasional head drilling, of course. The acting is generally fit for purpose, so while it won’t win any awards, it does engage your sympathy in all the right ways, and Morten Ruda is the stand out, carrying more of the narrative as the movie progresses and allowing the mix of off-kilter laughs to blend perfectly with the feeling and the pain.

The use of oil is also an interesting motif, but its allegorical use pales in comparison to the body horror of watching it exude from every pore of its victims, and it gives them a distinctive and effective look. There are also a lot of references to other horror movies thrown into the mix (more than this casual horror fan could ever detect), but the overall narrative, while taking occasional tangents, hangs together very effectively, and the abiding impression is of a deliciously dark movie that will creep under your skin like the oil in its victims.

Why see it at the cinema: There’s plenty of effective imagery, both subtle and in-your-face, and of course this is at its core a horror movie, so why not guarantee yourself a dark room with a large screen to make the most of the chills?

The Score: 8/10

2 thoughts on “Cambridge Film Festival Review: Dark Souls (Mørke Sjeler)

    […] 5. Dark Souls […]

    […] real gems in there. I may not have seen the likes of The Desert Of Forbidden Art, Pelican Blood, Dark Souls or The People vs George Lucas if there weren’t playing at a festival, and I didn’t see […]

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