III review: a film to absorb and think about.
Director: Pavel Khvaleev
Cast: Polina Davydova, Lyubov Ignatushko, Evgeniy Gagarin
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Synopsis: During a mysterious epidemic, two sisters promise to look after one another. When one falls ill, the other must use old rituals and a Shamonic book to enter her sister’s subconscious and destroy the evil.
Eastern european cinema is often slow and precisely plotted for a more calming affair. That’s why III is such a curiosity. It takes on the horror genre, which is not often known for its patience or soothing qualities, but generates a very imaginative, scary, and thoughtful meditation on its themes. Created on a nothing budget by a dedicated team of just 8 people, you see names repeating themselves in the credits. Director Pavel Khvaleev serves as not only the man in charge, but also as editor and visual effects supervisor, while his wife and writer of the screenplay, Aleksandra Khvaleev, is also the costume designer. It’s clearly a work of passion, and every ounce of love is felt on screen.
In an unnamed, but Russian speaking, country, we fall into a small community where a disease is taking over. In this small town lives Ayia (Davydova) and Mirra (Ignatushko), two sisters who mean the world to each other. After their mother dies, Mirra too becomes sick and Ayia enlists the help of Father Herman (Gagarin) to help her sister. But this seems to be no ordinary illness, and the methods of recovery are far from ordinary too, as Ayia must travel inside the mind of Mirra to discover and destroy her greatest fear.
The film mixes its themes very well, as we see an illness that may be brought on by factors within the mind and soul, while the cure could be something more spiritual. Mind or not, the physical toll is clear, and the Khvaleev’s show how religions can adopt practices from other cultures to suit their own needs. Is it hypocritical, or is it just common sense? Such themes are interwoven in a timeless tale, that can’t be placed within any specific time period. It is also surprisingly relevant, as more and more research is done into mental health and its effects on the body, while people are turning away from your usual run of the mill medicine.
III is more of a dark fairytale than a straight out horror. It’s Inception by way of a Russian folktale, and the journey’s into the mind are met by strange challenges and hypnotic visuals. There’s no denying the simple beauty of the film, with oranges and reds creating fiery skies unrivalled in their ability to create a sense of awe. Such colours denote a warning, but also feel soothing at the same time. Much like Ayia’s journey through Mirra’s mind, it is somewhere familiar and safe, but contains dark secrets to be discovered.
The quaint historic locations are somewhere that could be swarming with tourists taking holiday snaps, or could just as easily be forgotten little hideaways isolated from society. They are all used with a great deal of thought and are perfect for a horror.
The director states Tarsem Singh’s The Cell as an influence, and it’s clear to see why. Although III is more rooted in nature, with protruding twigs coming alive and every stone having a story to tell. The effervescent woods and forests only further enhance the fairytale feel, as the audience is lead reassuringly by the hand, only for us to soon realise we are being guided into misfortune.
With very evocative understated performances, this is not only a visual treat, but something that pulls on heartstrings as well. That overwhelming fear that we may not be able to help a loved one is the strongest sense of horror that III has to offer, but if that’s not enough, then there are plenty of gruesome humanoid monsters to also give you nightmares.
Deliberately paced in a slow but never meandering way where it feels as though all direction is lost, III is a film to absorb and think about. Answers don’t come easily, if at all, and every viewer’s personal experiences will be requested and required in order to enhance this very impressive and unique tome of loss, dedication, and understanding.
III review by Luke Ryan Baldock, August 2015.
III screened at Frightfest 2015.