Horror Story – Kinoteka 2024

David Cunningham

Writer and Director: Adrian Apanel

School, a character opines in Horror Story, does not prepare us for real life. This may be the central point of Adrian Apanel’s somewhat scattershot satire on modern life, particularly the difficulties facing young people at the start of their working lives.

Having graduated with a degree in banking and finance Tomek (Jakub Zajac) moves to Warsaw to start his career. His hopes are high including that success will re-ignite the relationship with his former girlfriend. However, his funds are limited, necessitating renting a room in a crumbling villa.

Tomek’s job search does not go well, and he is routinely humiliated and intimidated by the officials who are supposed to be teaching him the skills needed to gain and pass interviews. He is also out of his depth in his accommodation where his neighbours include a thuggish jack-the-lad who scrapes a living in door-to-door sales but mainly by borrowing funds and the elderly owner of the property who may have second sight and seems to believe the forces which occupied Poland during World War II comprised werewolves and vampires. As pressures on Tomek grow he starts to realise he must rely on himself rather than the conventional guidance from other people.

Despite the spooky old house in which much of the movie takes place the horrors referred to in the title are not conventional film scares but more the daunting day-to-day experiences many young people encounter. Tomek endures a lack of privacy, encounters unsympathetic potential employers, and comes to regard himself as without value as the qualifications he worked so hard to achieve are treated as irrelevant.

There is a tentative feel to Horror Story as if writer/director Adrian Apanel could not decide whether to make a coming-of-age story, a social satire or a comedy of embarrassment and so included elements of each genre. Potential employers range from those who regard the younger generation as spoilt and ungrateful to those disinterested in interviewing candidates and constantly distracted by their mobile phones. The nonsense abstract questions asked at interviews as to what one would do if a penguin entered the room are rightly spoofed. The bureaucrats at the job centre behave in a Kafkaesque manner recording every passing remark made by Tomek.

The approach makes for a crowded movie, so it is easy to overlook the most powerful moment. After a series of misadventures Tomek gets up the courage to approach his ex-girlfriend who appears as if out of a dream, dressed to the nines in a seductive outfit only to disappoint Tomek by trying to recruit him to join a sales force for dodgy beauty products.

The episodic nature of the film means that secondary characters pop up as and when required by the plot. Jakub Zajac, on the other hand, is in every scene as the harassed Tomek and pushes the movie into a comedy of embarrassment. In the manner of Gene Wilder being driven towards the point of hysteria Zajac shows Tomek’s growing disenchantment with the process of acquiring a job. He is routinely embarrassed by being used as a model for the application of make-up or having his manner of dress scathingly mocked.

Zajac looks younger than his age and so captures the temptations experienced by a very young man away from home for the first time; even though it shows a potentially dislikeable aspect of Tomek. The camera roams over every woman encountered by Tomek (who all seem to favour low-cut tops and short skirts) as if undressing them with his eyes.

The theme of the movie is easy to identify- Tomek must learn to be true to himself rather than the advice of others- but Adrian Apanel manages to squeeze in a final joke to show, despite his misadventures, Tomek has not really travelled that far after all.

The restless nature of Horror Story prevents all of the comic possibilities from being exploited but it remains an unusual and entertaining way of examining the pressures experienced by members of Gen Z.

Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 2024 takes place in venues across London 6 – 28 March.

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