Post Mortem Movie Review
Written by Joanna K. Neilson
Released by Szupermodern Stúdió
Directed by Péter Bergendy
Written by Piros Zánkay, Gábor Hellebrandt and Péter Bergendy
2020, 115 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Released on 28th October 2021
Viktor Klem as Tomás
Fruzsina Hais as Anna
Judit Schell as Marcsa
Andrea Ladányi as Auntie
Tomas (Victor Klem), a young German soldier in the First World War, narrowly avoids being thrown into a burial pit with a huge pile of his dead comrades. In peacetime a few years later, he continues to be strongly tied to death, taking photographs of deceased relatives for bereaved patrons at a travelling fayre. But it’s clear he’s still haunted by his close brush with the other side. So when a sharp little girl called Anna (Fruzsina Hais) approaches him to take his photographs at a remote village, he’s soon drawn into a situation both terrifying and tragic. Because while the village’s dead may be frozen, still waiting for the ground to thaw before they are buried, they are anything but peaceful.
This really is an odd blend of over-familiar tropes and unexpected twists. And it’s beautifully set up. Taking family photographs of deceased loved ones was considered perfectly acceptable about a hundred years ago – the Victorians were big fans of these macabre images, used as keepsakes of their late family members, and the tradition continued some way into the 20th Century. The concept may already be familiar from films like The Others, which wheel out this unsettling penchant quite frequently. The photographs are usually there to provide an extra layer of poignancy to the horror or to provide clues to who’s living – or not. After all, to modern sensibilities this custom is extremely creepy. Here, it’s handled very respectfully, but that inherent creepiness is still exploited for all it’s worth..
Unfortunately, as the story unfolds, a familiar ‘spooks in a period setting’ familiarity suddenly escalates into a more violent uprising of the undead. There are no zombies, not exactly, but something much crazier is soon revealed. Whether this change of gears works or not is really the issue. Personally, the change seems a little jarring, and it is a shame to lose the mood created by such an effective, creepy build-up. This definitely works best as a frozen mystery story with extra ghosts. In fact, the ghosts are done extremely well – with an unlucky, sunken-necked spook being particularly memorable. And as the ghostly activities become more overt, the special effects become fantastically dynamic and unique. The chimneys in this film really do some surprising things...
Unfortunately, the overall pace is pretty uneven, changing gears in that jarring escalation. But the atmosphere is never less than authentically freezing. Even as a viewer, the constant ice and snow creeps out of the screen and creates plenty of goosebumps. That’s why it's such a shame that it loses the brilliant unease from the first half.
But the film is still well worth a look. All the performances are excellent and Fruzsina Hais is the standout here. She's very reminiscent of Jodelle Ferland, the talented actress who seemed to be in almost every horror film during the early 2000s. You’re never quite sure if her character is already dead, another undead, or something else even stranger. She adds a fantastic extra layer of paranoia. As for Tomas, Viktor Klem does well with a character who’s an outsider in a land cursed by war and illness and who keeps up his sense of kindness and duty despite the villagers’ growing hostility. The growing bond between him and Anna really keeps the heart of the story together.
So, should you try to see it? Well, Post Mortem is definitely unusual, with a very strong start, and almost delivers a truly great ghost story. Atmospheric and often startlingly unique, it’s still a perfect way to prepare yourself for the approaching winter darkness. Just wrap up warm before you watch it.
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