Spoiler-Free Reviews: “The Devil’s Bath” and “Hunters on a White Field” (Tribeca)

June 11, 2024

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at josephperry@gmail.com. He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

The Devil’s Bath (Des Teufels Bad; Austria/Germany, 2024)

Cowriters/codirectors Veronica Franz and Severin Fiala are well known for crafting two of the grimmest horror features of the past 10 years, Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh, Ich seh, 2014) and The Lodge (2019). With their new outing The Devil’s Bath, they show within the first few minutes that they don’t plan on softening up their approach, as viewers witness an event from which many fear-fare filmmakers might shy away. In a dread-filled portrayal of mental illness in a small, rural religious community in 18th century Austria, the duo blends folk horror, religious horror, and psychological horror elements. Agnes (Anja Plaschg) and Wolf (David Scheid) have a festive wedding day, but Wolf has no interest in consummating their marriage, while Agnes seems quite interested in having a baby. Wolf’s mother Gänglin (Maria Hofstätter) doesn’t make life easier on Agnes, either. Depression sets in with Agnes, sending her on a journey toward the unthinkable. Plaschg — who also composed the film’s unsettling score under her music pseudonym Soap&Skin — gives a bravura performance in her lead role, including a jaw-dropping scene that you’ll know when you see (no spoilers here). Franz and Fiala unfold events at a slow-burn pace, but provide plenty to chew on along with unnerving visuals to keep attention rapt throughout.

 

Hunters on a White Field (Jakt; Sweden, 2024)

Director Sarah Gyllenstierna’s feature film debut Hunters on a White Field combines character study and dark drama with horror-adjacent and thriller elements. Alex (Ardalan Esmaili), who wishes to rise up in the company for which he works, accompanies his slightly older boss Gregger (Magnus Krepper) on a hunting trip in the Swedish wilderness. Things begin well until they arrive at the place they will stay, a cabin belonging to the family of the uncouth, racist Henrik (Jens Hultén), who makes a rude remark about Alex’s darker skin, among other bad behavior. At first reluctant to kill an animal, Alex discovers a wilder, darker side to him in the company of the two alpha males. The third act puts a new spin on an oft-adapted classic hunting-horror trope that I won’t mention any more about so as to avoid spoilers, but combine macho posturing with alcohol and psychological games, and you know things are headed in a dire direction. Esmaili, Krepper, and Hultén are all excellent in their roles. Gyllenstierna, who cowrote the screenplay with Mats Wägeus, helms the film impressively, building suspense as the proceedings head toward a chilling climax. 

 

 

The Devil’s Bath and Hunters on a White Field screen as part of Tribeca, which runs June 5–16, 2024. For more information, visit https://tribecafilm.com/festival/film.

The Devil’s Bath screens at New York City’s IFC Center from June 21, 2024, and premieres on Shudder on June 28.

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