Sunday, February 23, 2014

Elizabeth Bathory – review

Director: Elizabeth Nixon

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

It’s always nice to see independent filmmakers pull a project together, and I am always intrigued to see how such filmmakers will push past the constraints that low budget will place upon them.

In the case of the film Elizabeth Bathory it is achieved by reducing the film to (virtually) one set. There is some establishing photography of a castle and the moon. There are some limited outdoor flash back shots and some white background blood bathing and victims motifs. But mostly we are in one single cell in the castle.

The danger of this approach is that you need actors who can carry it off…

main cast
The film opens up with intertitles that suggest that Elizabeth Bathory (I’ll stick with the Anglicisation of her name for the duration of the review) suffered from a hereditary disease that caused light sensitivity, brittle teeth, pale skin and anti-social behaviour and that the symptoms could only be alleviated with the consumption of blood. At the end of the film we are informed, by intertitle again, that this disease is called hypohemepathia. The end intertitles also suggest some historic aspects to Bathory’s story.

Kathleen Denecke asAnika
I contacted producer Andrew Nixon as the disease didn’t – according to google – exist. He admitted it was invented for the film (and I knew that the historical facts were either stretched or out with accepted historic knowledge of the case). Why do I mention it? Certainly not to attack it – as the invention worked well with the story. No, I mention it so that someone, at some point in the future, doesn’t mention it unsourced but verbatim as fact. It is fiction.

Katherine dragged to cell
That having been said we see a woman, Katherine (Tilke Hill), as she is dragged to a cell. She is screaming and then, in the cell, prays hysterically. She doesn’t notice, at first, that the cell is occupied by another woman, Anika (Kathleen Denecke). We see that Anika has a knife. At first Katherine tries to speak to the younger woman but she does not respond. It is only later, as a thin chink of sunlight enters the cell and causes Katherine to declare it is from God to comfort them that Anika speaks and that is to tell the newcomer to stop praying as it hurts her ears.

Adah Hagen as Zsofia
The film progresses as the two women, slowly, begin to trust and open up to each other. It seems that Katherine is missing some memory. She remembers times with her older sister Zsofia (Adah Hagen) – we see these scenes as moments, outdoors. Later, when it seems that they have been fed twice, Katherine remembers some details and realises they are in the dungeon belonging to Countess Bathory – she always feeds them twice when she is to select a victim, to help keep the strength up.

Both women have secrets they hide from each other, and themselves and it is the revealing of these secrets that is the main thread of the film.

Tilke Hill as Katherine
I say film but this could easily translate to being a play, due to the simplicity of the scene. However what is important here is the performances of the main actresses. Kathleen Denecke gives an excellent, praiseworthy performance but Tilke Hill’s performance can be called nothing less than astonishing, a powerhouse of a performance. Both women keep us hooked into this tiny world, both draw us in as we wait to see how their stories will reveal and how their psyches will withstand their imprisonment. Kudos, also, to the Nixons, whose tightly written dialogue facilitates these performances.

Criticisms… I did guess one main secret early on, but there were moments of doubt as the film unravelled, which made me suspicious of my own guess. On a couple of occasions I felt the soundtrack perhaps was a little overpowering, which was probably just me but it was only a couple of times and mostly it accompanied the film well.

The film is on independent release and can be found to buy on DVD or streamed on demand via the film’s homepage. It is recommended for those who like their dramas to be character driven and thoughtful. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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