Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Villmark 2 (2015)

aka Villmark Asylum

A group of workers and one young archivist under the leadership of Live (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) are helicoptered to an empty old sanatorium and asylum deep in the deepest woods of Norway, which is indeed very deep if Norwegian horror films have taught me anything. They have only one weekend – much too short a time frame the oldest and crankiest among their number will not stop to complain until he is killed off (spoilers, I guess) – to mark the place for hazardous materials so that the wrecking crew that’s going to come in can wreck the place responsibly.

However, something’s very wrong at the place. It’s not just that the caretaker of the asylum – who has been living there for decades – doesn’t seem terribly cooperative and is indeed rather creepy, but there are noises and shapes all around that suggest there’s someone (or something?) else living there with him. Given that the team soon finds a man taking his last breaths hung up like a slasher movie victim after some sort of attack, one can’t help but suspect said someone or something is not friendly. So, as if the general tensions between the workers wasn’t enough, they are getting murdered in rather unpleasant ways one by one.

If you want, you can take the hints and Easter eggs in Pål Øie’s Villmark 2, made more than a decade after the film it is a sequel to, add them to the stuff you remember from the first one and come up with a pretty nice retcon of what actually happened in the first one, reassessing who killed whom and why there. Or you can ignore these things and have a perfectly nice asylum-set slasher on your hands. As far as handling the connections between sequels in a series of horror movies goes, that seems to be a rather neat way to go about things, suggesting a mythology more than constructing it. But then, I’m bound to prefer the more ambiguous method for this sort of thing that lets the audience do the work – or really, as much work as one wants to do – and leaves more space for a sequel to be a thing all its own.

Admittedly, “a thing all its own” is a bit of a curious description for Villmark 2, for where the first movie only used elements of the slasher and films about people cracking up in a cabin in the woods, this second outing hews much closer to typical genre standards, and not just because the empty sanatorium and/or asylum might be a place that’s even more overused by horror movies than a cabin in the woods. There are certainly more than just shades of the brilliant Session 9 in the film’s set-up, too, even though it moves in a more standard backwoods slasher direction from there. However, the film’s central location – the interior scenes where apparently shot in Hungary and not in Norway – is still often effectively creepy, Øie again demonstrating quite an ability to fill a place with a feeling of wrongness before much of anything happens.

On the plot side, the film often follows standard backwoods slasher structures, but Øie has a better grip on the possibilities of the formula than most directors still using it, developing  well-worn tropes effectively, as well as simply putting more effort into the characterisation of victims and their tormentors alike.

The film also recommends itself through a pleasant sense of the grotesque. Again, its basic ideas regarding the design and behaviour of the killers and what they do isn’t new, but there’s a sense for the telling detail when it comes to this aspect of the film that turns the things I’ve seen in a hundred movies effective again for this one. They also hang together, aesthetically and thematically, feeling like an organic – if aberrant – consequence of the film’s background.

I very much suspect that the way the film’s backstory taps into World War II and terrible human experiments following it has some strong resonance for a Norwegian audience – at least, it seems to be a motive repeating in what I’ve seen in Norwegian horror. Then again, I might just have seen exactly the films to make me come up with this theory.

Anyway, while I don’t think Villmark 2 is quite as strong as the first film, it is a fine film very much worth watching.

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