Saturday, June 22, 2024

“THE GIRL WITH THE NEEDLE”

THE STORYIn Copenhagen, young pregnant Karoline takes on a position as a wet nurse for an older woman named Dagmar to help support herself. Dagmar operates a clandestine adoption agency under the guise of a candy shop, assisting disadvantaged mothers place their unwanted newborns in foster homes. Karoline grows close to Dagmar, but she is soon faced with the nightmarish reality she unwittingly entered.

THE CASTVic Carmen Sonne, Trine Dyrholm, Besir Zeciri, Joachim Fjelstrup, Tessa Hoder & Avo Knox Martin

THE TEAMMagnus von Horn (Director/Writer) & Line Langebek (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 115 Minutes


Women-centric films are becoming increasingly commonplace nowadays, focusing more on depicting and telling authentic female stories than ever. Trials and tribulations specific to women that have spanned decades, centuries, millennia, and even modern-day controversies are no longer just hushed, clandestine conversations between wives, mothers, and victims. What topics once, albeit not too long ago, were only spoken of in low, wavering voices over cups of tea, conversations confined inside the walls of the home, are now being shouted about, pleaded to be heard, lest people shy away from inevitable discomfort. And the Cannes film In Competition, “The Girl With the Needle,” does anything but shy away from those unpleasantries. In fact, the film cleverly first beckons the audience in close, only to then hold the viewer accountable for witnessing more than a few shocking, graphic scenes and situations, asking them to grapple with the past to better understand their present.

“The Girl With the Needle,” a 2024 Danish gothic horror crime drama, is a tense picture directed by Magnus von Horn and written by von Horn and Line Langebek. It’s loosely based on the true tale of the Danish serial killer Dagmar Overbye, whose crime spree spanned the late 1800s through the turn of the century. Throughout the film, we follow Karoline (Vic Carmen Sonne), a young, poverty-stricken factory worker who winds up alone, pregnant, and hopeless on the streets of post-WW1 Copenhagen. As chance would have it, Karoline crosses paths with Dagmar (Trine Dyrholm), seemingly overflowing with empathy and more than willing to help this desperate woman, reluctant to be a mother. The older woman first takes Karoline’s unwanted child off her hands, only to later take Karoline under her wing as a working wet nurse for all the children passing through her brief “care.” However, this eerie facade doesn’t take long to unravel. Karoline soon picks up on the fact that something is extremely wrong about Dagmar and her underground money-making business, buying and disappearing dozens of children.

This horrifically intriguing story is told in a unique style in part due to von Horn’s direction, who paints what could’ve easily been a bland retelling of a crime lost to time with a macabre sort of dark “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” lens. Due to this, “The Girl With the Needle” transforms reality into an eerie, off-kilter fable reminiscent in style, tone, and aesthetic of films such as Charles Laughton’s “The Night of the Hunter” (1955) and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” (1940). Von Horn also makes the genius choice not to have the film follow the killer herself but instead have the protagonist be one of the many women to have fallen for her deception and falsehoods. This way, the audience is left doubting their own intuition, and if unfamiliar with the true story, left only to their own devices and the witnessing of Karoline’s trust for Overbye or lack thereof. When we are shown the ugly and the evil, though, von Horn does not hold anything back. Scenes that elicit gasps from their audience are sure to upset many viewers, and some may argue the inclusion of such scenes is merely a form of unnecessary shock value. Still, many others may find its rough and raw depictions strangely refreshing and impactful.

The specific direction from von Horn, coupled with conspicuous cinematography by “EO” director of photography Michal Dymek (whose stunning use of lighting throughout is perhaps the film’s greatest artistic asset), utterly excels with its monochrome color palette and a haunting score ramping with tension from composer Frederikke Hoffmeier. The screenplay is intelligently paced, ushering the audience along a seemingly meandering period piece before a downpour of shocking pin drops accumulate tension to a delicious near-breaking point, yet holding back just enough to deprive relief. All the film’s technical aspects combine to complement each other, creating an extremely effective atmospheric experience that’s easy on the eyes but heavy in its themes, tackled impeccably by an impressive cast who commit to carrying this tale to the bitter end. 

The performances within “The Girl With the Needle” are integral to this heavy-handed retelling of this bleak vignette of Danish history. Vic Carmen Sonne (“Godland”) portrays a multifaceted, often frustrating yet convincing Karoline, our naive and frequently childlike protagonist. Through Karoline, she brings weighted emotion as she navigates a life that hasn’t dealt her a fair set of cards. From coming to terms with the disappearance of her husband in the war, being abandoned by her new lover after becoming pregnant, and ending up poor, alone, and attempting her own dangerous means of abortion, as she sees no other choice or way out of her terrible situation turned worse. Trine Dyrholm steps into the daunting shoes of none other than Dagmar Overbye, a sweet seller who swoops in to stop Karoline from committing the act and convinces her to hand the baby over to her own underground adoption system for a fee, of course. Dyrholm gives a masterclass in subtlety in her performance, slowly revealing the terrifying motives and disturbing inner workings of how this real-life woman functioned. She’s eerily poised in situations that would make most shudder but is able to explode in a fuming rage at the flip of a hat. These two women are the heart of the film. Still, the performances of Karoline’s veteran husband, Peter, and clandestine lover, Jørgen (Besir Zeciri and Joachim Fjelstrup, respectively) are notable additions in their own right, providing even more layers to an already weighted and complex situation.

Where “The Girl With the Needle” truly stands out in its uniqueness and intrepidity is that this tale of a serial killer and the suffering of women from days gone by isn’t as cut and dried as it may sound. In fact, it’s an extremely timely and relevant story to be retelling at this point in time. There is an admittance of evil being perpetuated, but the audience is also asked what they would do to find a better solution. What other choice did these poverty-stricken mothers have, especially during a time when they could not receive the kind of help they could get today? The harsh reality is that these devastated women could barely keep themselves afloat, let alone support their unwanted newborns. And in a time when abortion was outlawed, and resources were nonexistent, they inevitably turned to their own devices when left feeling hopeless, powerless, and terrified. Sure, none of this changes the fact that women did what they had to do to survive such grueling times, but a surprising glimmer of empathy can be found within “The Girl With The Needle,” containing an astounding amount of weight behind it. And in a modern world where women’s rights are constantly debated and toyed with on a political chessboard, it’s all the more horrifying to realize that a gothic horror film set in the 19th century may have had even an inkling of insight into the importance of women’s rights, healthcare, and freedoms.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - A thrilling, engrossing true tale, elevated by superb performances, stunning cinematography, and fearless direction and storytelling unafraid of upsetting, shocking, or disturbing in an effort to tell a good story with relevancy and poignancy.

THE BAD - Many disturbing scenes are played for shock value and will surely upset and disturb many audiences.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best International Feature

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>A thrilling, engrossing true tale, elevated by superb performances, stunning cinematography, and fearless direction and storytelling unafraid of upsetting, shocking, or disturbing in an effort to tell a good story with relevancy and poignancy.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Many disturbing scenes are played for shock value and will surely upset and disturb many audiences.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-international-feature/">Best International Feature</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"THE GIRL WITH THE NEEDLE"