Thursday, June 13, 2024

“THE DAMNED”

THE STORY – In this atmospheric period drama set in the 19th century, Eva, a young widow, faces an impossible choice when a ship sinks off the coast of her isolated fishing village during a cruel winter. With their food supplies dwindling, Eva and her town must decide whether to rescue the shipwrecked sailors or let them perish to ensure their own survival. As the consequences of their actions begin to manifest, the villagers find themselves grappling with the weight of their decisions and the mounting unease that permeates their close-knit community.

THE CAST – Odessa Young, Joe Cole, Lewis Gribben, Siobhan Finneran, Francis Magee, Rory McCann & Turlough Convery

THE TEAM – Thordur Palsson (Director) & Jamie Hannigan (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 89 Minutes


Snow-covered landscapes may look gorgeous, but they can be brutal to live in. The intimate community of fishermen at the center of Thordur Palsson’s “The Damned” never even notice the breathtaking beauty of the blue-white world around them for how terribly cold it is. This is a harsh environment, one in which life can only flourish with much hard work and extraordinary amounts of strength, especially in the 19th century. When a ship sinks far in the distance from their small fishing outpost, one can hardly blame them for rowing out and scavenging the remains for any useful supplies to help them survive the harsh winter. Some men survive the wreck, though, and in their desperation to survive, the fishermen end up killing them. After hastily burying the bodies, the guilt starts to gnaw away at the fishermen and Eva (Odessa Young), the young widow who runs the outpost. But is it just their guilt, or have they unwittingly unleashed a supernatural force bent on revenge?

Palsson’s control over the frame is evident right from the film’s opening, which introduces us to the film’s world in subtly visceral ways. Transitions between scenes often make use of the white-out effect of falling snow, fully immersing the audience in the environment. Slow push-ins on characters telling stories and sharing feelings draw you in while building tension until you feel trapped in this place right alongside them. But it’s when the film enters into more overt horror territory that Palsson’s skill becomes most evident. Thoroughly weaponizing the frame, Palsson and cinematographer Eli Arenson use the audience’s knowledge of horror tropes against them to create scares that creep up from the edges. One may be focusing on the door featured prominently in the frame, but once you notice the human body-shaped shadow hiding in the corner, you can’t see anything else. The effect is bone-chilling, freezing the audience in terror right alongside the characters, not because of the shock of what we’re seeing but because of the slow realization that what we are seeing should not be there.

While this style is incredibly effective, it eventually suffers from the same fate as most jump scares: After enough times, the rhythm of the scare becomes expected, thus robbing it of its potency. Still, as the line between what’s real and what isn’t becomes blurrier, Palsson shifts the focus more onto the characters’ reactions to what they’re seeing, further driving home their increasing desperation and helpless state. “The Damned” is thick with fear and dread, and while the deliberate pace never exactly quickens, the characters’ increasingly fraught emotional state cranks up the intensity, making it feel like the film is accumulating momentum as it goes. For something as subtle as this, even that little bit goes a long way.

The performances also go a long way toward making “The Damned” as effective as it is. The small ensemble works together incredibly well, with unspoken history flowing between them like electricity. Each of the fishermen has a clearly defined personality that never feels cliché, and the actors believably descend into madness at different speeds according to their established mental fortitude. However, the film’s point of view is centered on Eva, and Young’s captivating aura makes the numerous scenes of her trudging through the frozen wasteland feel compelling instead of dull. It’s very easy to portray fear, but Young never resorts to the same techniques twice, making each reaction shot feel specific to what she’s seeing at that very moment. Eva, whose husband fished with these men before his tragic death, has only been able to deal with the isolation of the environment up to this point. Now, she must adapt to it if she wants to survive, and Young makes interesting choices as Eva learns what she is capable of. Young has already proven herself one of the best actors of her generation, with a filmography that only gets more interesting with each successive non-mainstream project. “The Damned” further speaks to her instincts for picking out-of-left-field projects with under-the-radar talent.

Palsson lavishes the film with numerous striking moments, each furthering the mood of the piece. A mid-film monologue from Siobhan Finneran (the only other woman at the outpost) introduces an element of folk horror to this morality tale, sending reality on a collision course with the mysticism of this wintry realm. That dose of horror adds potency to the film’s exploration of isolation and madness, not to mention adding a sense of claustrophobia to the wide-open spaces surrounding the outpost. As “The Damned” slowly walks towards its shocking, gut-wrenching conclusion, increasingly strange things happen, but Palsson (who developed the story that Jamie Hannigan turned into a screenplay) keeps it all grounded in reality, focused on the morality of survival. Even as you cheer on the characters for taking control of their situation, the result of their actions is stomach-churning, both for the horrific images and the moral implications. Between the intensity of the performances and the visceral imagery, “The Damned” is an atmospheric trip into the heart of darkness, one that will chill you to the bone even in the height of summer.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - An overwhelmingly oppressive atmosphere that hooks you into the period folk horror and psychological thriller featuring a terrific lead performance from Odessa Young.

THE BAD - Its rhythms become repetitive.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>An overwhelmingly oppressive atmosphere that hooks you into the period folk horror and psychological thriller featuring a terrific lead performance from Odessa Young.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Its rhythms become repetitive.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"THE DAMNED"