Post Mortem - Grimmfest Easter 2022 Review
Director: Péter Bergendy
Starring: Viktor Klem, Fruzsina Hais, Judit Schell, Andrea Ladányi
Written by: Piros Zánkay, Péter Bergendy, Gábor Hellebrandt
Produced by: Ábel Köves, Tamás Lajos
Cinematography by: András Nagy
Original Score by: Atti Pacsay
A post mortem photographer and a little girl confront ghosts in a haunted village after the First World War.
If we were judging horror films based solely on their premise then 'Post Mortem' is undoubtedly a must see. Director Péter Bergendy's post World War ghost story is fairly grim and slow with an explosive finale and while it does struggle in places, there's an intensity to the storytelling that has to be applauded.
The film takes place during the outbreak of the Spanish flu in 1918 in a small Hungarian village. Tomás, an ex-soldier who had previously thought to have died on the battlefield, has now been nurtured back to life after months of rehabilitation and is now dedicating his time to photographing the dead in the wake of the First World War. He moves to the small rural village where he is invited to take portraits of the deceased villagers. He begins to form a friendship with a young girl called Anna and as his work load increases he also becomes known to the rest of the villagers. It's not quite the classic "outsider moves in" trope but there is a deep sense that some of the village folk aren't exactly comfortable with his presence.
There's definitely an insinuation here that something sinister is happening throughout the confines of the village and it's an intriguing plot, however much of the first half of the film is just lingering on Tomás and his deeply unsettling task of photographing the dead, sometimes alongside the living. But it's in these seemingly mundane scenes that the horror of what is about to unfold becomes apparent.
'Post Mortem' is a hugely ambitious undertaking with smart ideas and spectacular imagery but it left me feeling flat. While it still manages to look impressive at times, especially towards the end, the film uses way too much natural light which limits its cinematic aesthetic. It does try its best to be as atmospheric as possible and it's mostly successful in that goal. Some of the rural scenic sequences are gorgeous to look at, especially those that were clearly filmed at first light when the morning mist fills the crisp air. But the film does its best work at night when it allows itself to fully embrace the horror. There's a great scene in one of the big barns involving a group photography session that is really cleverly filmed with a cool payoff. There's also one jump scare when we are first introduced to a ghost (which is portrayed as a shadow) but it doesn't really deliver.
The ghosts are invisible to the naked eye and while this makes for some creepy scenes where they grab the villagers it also provides some silly fun too. Not sure if this was Bergendy's intent but I did chuckle during some of these moments.
Tomás and Anna work together to firstly try to appeal to the ghosts and then eventually try to capture them, much to their chagrin. The ghosts lash out violently towards the villagers and there's mass hysteria. Villagers are dragged away, thrown against walls and lifted into the air. It's pure chaos and Bergendy and the main cast do a decent job of emphasising the horrendous gravity of the situation. There's some pretty good effects and stunt work on show during this sequence and the dead bodies that appear are pretty disturbing. They look like decayed mannequins and one of the zombie-like little boys is particularly creepy.
While the vigor and passion put into the impressive finale can't be denied the film lacks any real emotional impact and perhaps could've worked better as a short.
- Gavin Logan
'Post Mortem' will screen at the Odeon Great Northern on April 15th as part of Grimmfest Easter