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by Jay Seaver

"A high-quality haunting."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Marianne" is less a genre-straddling film than one that straddles the line between what is traditionally called "genre" and the more-respected types of drama, and it's one of the good ones. It's a story of a haunting, sure, but it's filled with great little character bits and acting; it should impress the audiences who normally look down on horror stories as well as those who cringe at apparent award-bait.

Ten years ago, Krister (Thomas Hedengran) strayed from his wife Eva (Tintin Anderzon) - again - with the Marianne of the title (Viktoria Sätter). Today, he is at Eva's funeral, holding their infant daughter Linnéa. His daughter Sandra (Sandra Larsson) hates him, preferring to spend time with her boyfriend "Stiff" (Dylan M. Johansson) and resenting Krister's requests for her to babysit her new sister. Eva's mother Birgitta (Gudrun Mickelsson) comes to help out with that, and that's got to be uncomfortable. Something more than an infant and grief is keeping Krister up nights, though, and Peter (Peter Boija), the principal of the school where Krister teaches, has him visit a counselor (Peter Stormare). But maybe it's Stiff, an avowed occult enthusiast, who knows what is really going on...

Writer/director Filip Tegstedt's little story is deceptively ambitious; what could be a vanilla ghost story based on a straightforward set of sins is instead a more complex set of interlocking plots with messy human emotions behind them. We see the Eva/Krister/Marianne triangle as well as Krister's mourning, but interestingly, not as something sexy and salacious - what Tegstedt shows is almost entirely the moments when Krister is hurting somebody and hating it. It's presented as a situation with no good answers - Marianne isn't a monster and Eva is very passive (it's no wonder Krister keeps having affairs if Eva just puts up with it) The flashbacks mesh tightly with the scenes in the present, but never in a way that becomes confusing when a given scene is taking place. There's also a second triangle going on that is in many ways as interesting as the first - Krister, Sandra, and Stiff.

It's not a romantic triangle, of course - it's Krister trying to reconnect with his teenage daughter while she resents how he and Stiff (the older hippie that your average father should utterly disapprove of) bond over Krister's apparent encounters with a mara and how such a creature can be repelled. Even without the supernatural element in play, it would still be a fascinatingly strained set of relationships to monitor as Krister and Sandra are forced to confront maturity in the face of loss: He can't delegate parenting duties where either daughter is concerned, and she must both learn to forgive and examine her own choices.

Part of why it works so well is because of the surprisingly good cast. Thomas Hedengran is excellent as Krister, showing perfectly escalating fatigue and fear as the movie goes on, even as he tries to cover it up with stoicism. The man just seems to crumble as time passes. Sandra Larsson, meanwhile, is just as good in her film debut. She's not especially polished, but she's absolutely authentic in her every scene, with a believable growing maturity alongside without ever becoming the adult in the relationship (although it is quite amusing to see the the conservative father get caught up in the idea of ghosts and demons while his gothed-up daughter wishes he'd live in the real world). Dylan Johansson and Gudrun Mickelsson give good support, and seeing Peter Stormare pop up is a pleasant surprise.

It's a bit of a surprise to see Stormare pop up because despite the polish, this is actually a fairly small production, shot in director's home town and not going in for elaborate effects scenes. It does have a tight screenplay, and Tegstedt walks a nice line with it as both writer and director, making the scary elements frightening on their own but eventually directing them back inward for Krister - indeed, in some ways, the mara is at its most frightening when it seems to be metaphorical or a hallucination of Krister's.

"Marianne" probably won't do much (if anything) for those who think horror begins with the jump scene and ends with the gore-soaked money shot, but it's got plenty of ability to raise goosebumps, and aside from that, it's a really good movie. Both the mainstream and genre halves could work individually, but wind up even better when combined.

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originally posted: 08/28/11 14:37:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

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8/28/11 Louis Blyskal Great film 5 stars
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