Pensive (Rupintojelis) - FrightFest Glasgow UK Premiere Review
Director: Jonas Trukanas
Starring: Sarunas Rapolos Meliesius, Gabija Bargailaite, Marius Repsys, Donatas Simukauskas
Written by: Titas Laucius, Jonas Trukanas
Produced by: Emilija Sluskonyte
Cinematography by: Rokas Sydiekis
Original Score by: Andrius Kauklys
After classmates destroy life-size wooden folk art statues during a wild high school graduation party at a remote cottage, a mysterious killer starts picking them off one by one.
Graduation is a major milestone in any young person's life. It marks another turning point where a step is taken into entering the adult world so what better way to cap off the occasion than with a huge party in a remote cabin in the woods. An ideal setup for a night of intoxicated hijinks but in Jonas Trukanas' folk horror inflected slasher, these shenanigans have deadly consequences.
After an ominous cold open in which a scarred man is carving a human-like figure into a log we are introduced to a group of high school students who are attending their graduation ceremony. When it comes to slashers the characters really make up a who's who of clichéd character tropes. There's the comic relief friend, the basketball prodigy jock, the spaced out part animal and the dream girl who is out of reach. All of these individuals (and more) are led by Marius (played by Šarūnas Rapolas Meiliešius), a withdrawn young man uncertain about his future. On paper it appears to be a case of the same old, same old with your knives out ready to tear it apart for a lack of originality but the script from Trukanas alongside Titas Laucius adds enough depth to characters to make them more interesting than your standard slasher.
There is an off kilt aspect to Meiliešius' performance as Marius that makes him stand out as the lead. As the story develops and we learn more about his character he slowly becomes more interesting through the onscreen revelations. Kipras Mašidlauskas is also interesting as the character of Rimas because behind his veneer of confidence as an athlete bound for the NBA he manages to convey his character's insecurities in bursts to great effect. Gabija Bargailaite's performance as Brigita is another that grows as the film develops as her final scene is as cutting and brutal as anything the killer does on screen as up to that point Bargailaitė captures the uncertainty of youth better than anyone else in the cast. In general the wider cast also deliver charming and likeable performances that keeps you invested in them, elevating proceedings beyond the bog standard setup of a killer picking off a group of teens in a remote location one by one.
The element of the wooden statues in the film adds a folk horror flavour to proceedings and some originality to the harbinger of doom trope as they serve as figures of judgement towards the actions of those at the party for "crimes" such as inebriation, drug use and premarital sex. Typically if a character sins in this manner they are punished so the inclusion of the figures means there is no hiding from your actions, they are always watching and always judging even when the killer isn't around. When they are desecrated the massacre begins and in a nice touch the desecration of the figures reflects how a person is going to be killed raising the stakes.
Behind the camera Trunkanas' slow build approach feels like a breath of fresh air as it helps develop a sense of helplessness for the group at large and even a sense of mystery surrounding the wooden figures that haunt the surrounding area. When the inevitable killing begins there seems to be some restraint at times in the brutality displayed on screen which is a little disappointing given the pre-established tension. Having said that, the creative camera work on display maintains high levels of excitement in the latter half of the film. One particular standout is a 360 degree shot used in an attempted escape scene inside a car that really captures the fear, panic and desperation of the moment.
The score from Andrius Kauklys is also one of the film's key strengths as its transition throughout sets the tone perfectly for each scene. Its sparseness at the beginning when it is more of a soundscape than a traditional orchestral score reflects the isolation of the location which works in tandem with Rokas Šydeikis cinematography that highlights how trapped and helpless the characters are with wide shots of the cabin stuck within the forest. When the killer first appears it takes on a jarring quality as he begins to pick off the group one by one. As the killer hunts them down through the woods it transforms again into some sort of techno infused nightmare adding a lot of energy to the chase.
The slasher genre is one that has been wrung out of originality with some notable exceptions over the years but whilst 'Pensive' does fall into the clichés of the genre, the effort taken in the development of the characters alongside some creative touches behind the camera helps separate it from others. Its exploration of male entitlement and the uncertainty of youth make for engaging viewing but the reveal of the motives behind the killer feels a bit rushed and contrived. Having said that, it is still a lean, mean and most importantly an entertaining piece of horror.
- Joseph McElroy
'Pensive' received it's UK Premiere at FrightFest Glasgow 2023 on Friday 10th March