Nightsiren – 27th Made in Prague Festival

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writers: Barbara Namerova and Tereza Nvotnová

Director: Tereza Nvotnová

Nightsiren, being shown as part of the 27th Made in Prague Festival, is a feminist horror drama. Filmed in the mountains of Slovakia, it draws tradtional folklore with its tropes of dangerous witches, curses and poisons, to explore other forces that may well be at work

Sarlota Viharová (Natalia Germani) inherits a cottage deep in the forest. She struggles to get there, refusing to be daunted by bigoted locals who believe that a local woman, Otyla, is a witch who has curses their community. Sarlota herself is scarred, literally and metaphorically. Flashbacks reveal she accidently killed her younger sister, Tamara, who insisted on following Sarlota when she was trying to run away from the brutality of their childhood home. Years have passed, but Sarlota is still traumatised. She has a large, ugly scare across her belly – a botched attempt at either an abortion or a caesarean, we are led to believe.

Many of the scenes are shot at night, when strange noises and staring wolves terrify Sarlota. By day, the hillside becomes a pastoral idyll, with a handsome shepherd found by Sarlota asleep in a summery meadow. But another relationship is developing with Mira, another young woman whom she finds moonbathing naked near her cottage. They becomes close friends. Mira, we learn, sells herbs – she is evidently a wise young woman who knows age-old health practices.

The film is divided into chapters and by chapter 3, Wild Child, we learn that villagers stole Otyla’s child. And that the place is full of snakes. Meanwhile local women grow increasingly nasty. A central figure is seen coolly slitting the neck of a goose and hear her reporting on rumours of a “gipsy bitch” cavorting naked in the woods.

There is more – much,much more – of this witchy stuff. Sarlota is ostensibly heterosexual, but director Tereza Nvotnová likes to tease us with long sequence in which the camera lingers over her naked body and those of other young women. The local men, at the same time, are revealed to be animialistic – greedily, brutally raping any woman they encounter. Mira, meanwhile, reveals more of her natural powers, instantly curing Sarlota’s nosebleed, and concocting a love potion for Midsummer Night which ends with real or imagined frenzied orgies.

The plot twists and turns, gradually filling in the missing links through flashbacks. The scene in which the child Tamara accidentally fell to her death off a precipice is revisited, with some startling revelations. The music and weather both turn darker as we approach new discoveries.

It’s frankly difficult to follow what is going on, or what we’re supposed to make of it all. There continue to be dangerous white snakes and snarling wolves and attractive young women and nasty middle aged people. It’s hard to say what Nightsiren is all about.

Nightsiren is screening at the 27th Made in Prague Festival.

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Odd horror

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