Weekends are busy at the Fantasia International Film Festival, and Friday, July 22, saw things beginning to ramp up for me after a slow few days. After much internal debate, I decided to see three movies, all of them horror films of different kinds. First came the Danish film Shelley, at the Hall theatre, about sinister events around a surrogate mother in an isolated household. Then would come a Japanese film, The Inerasable (Zange —Sunde wa Ikanai Heya), about two women investigating a ghost manifesting in an urban apartment. Finally would come an animated Korean zombie movie, Seoul Station (Seoulyeok). They promised three very different tones. And, as it turned out, delivered nicely.
Written and directed by Ali Abbasi, Shelley follows a Romanian woman, Elena (Cosmina Stratan), who has agreed to become a live-in maid for a Danish couple, Louise and Kasper (Ellen Dorit Petersen and Peter Christoffersen). They live on their own in an isolated house without electricity, and the movie opens with Elena being driven to their home in the deep woods. As she settles in and becomes friends with her bosses we learn about all three of them — how Elena has a boy back in Bucharest, how she’s struggling to send money back to him, and then on the other hand how Louise and Kasper are vegetarians and raise their own food and want a child of their own which Louise is not physically able to bear. They soon offer Elena enough money to pay for an apartment for her and her boy if she will be a surrogate mother for their child. She agrees, but as the pregnancy goes on problems develop. Health issues; the sort of things a doctor finds normal. But then also more sinister signs. A mysterious crying in the night. Bad dreams. Is the pregnancy cursed?
If so, it’s not clear by what. The feel of horror in this movie is oddly attenuated. There are hints of bad things, but no reason why those bad things are manifesting (if they are). Nor a sense of any specific malevolence. There is a shaman-like seer (Björn Andrésen) who tends to the spiritual need of Elena’s bosses, but although at moments he seems to recognise evil at work, he doesn’t hint at why or what that evil might be.