Anna Rydell returns home to her sister (and best friend) Alex after a stint in a mental hospital, though her recovery is jeopardized thanks to her cruel stepmother, aloof father, and the presence of a ghost in their home.
A mysterious young girl with a large egg and a soldier meet and reveal uncomfortable occult secrets to one another in a lonely, beautiful, surrealist land populated only by restless shadows and an abandoned gothic / victorian town.
Different black-and-white animation techniques tell several scary stories. There's a story of a teenage boy who meets the wrong girl. Another tale deals with a small community where people disappear and are never seen again. Then there's the narrative of a little Japanese girl who suffers from horrible nightmares followed by a tale where a man doesn't get the rest he hoped for in an old not-so-abandoned house. These stories are connected by the story about a man with a devilish smile and four enormous dogs from hell and by a woman's monologue about her fears. Written by
Marco van Hoof <email@example.com>
A collection of animated black and white shorts that opens with an intense title sequence more effective than any of the stories that follow. As is usually the case with anthology films, some segments are better than others, but all suffer from a fatal lack of scares and the movie quickly becomes intensely dull.
In the first segment a wild-eyed old man wanders through the countryside and into a town, setting a pack of ferocious dogs on those he comes across. The rough pencil animation gives this section a gloomy atmosphere but as writer/director Blutch plods single-mindedly through his one idea and doesn't so much bring it to a conclusion as stop it dead, it's hard not to feel as though it's all rather pointless. It doesn't help that it's parcelled out between the other episodes, robbing it of any momentum.
The second segment is also divided into bite-sized chunks, which is unfortunate as it would have been better to get it out of the way, or ideally remove it from the film altogether as it's the odd one out. As an unseen woman relates her fears and nightmares, various shapes float and collide, onto which we presumably project our own visualisation of the narrator's thoughts. My brain switched off every time the movie returned to this part.
Next we have a lonely student who finally finds a girlfriend but is tormented by a bizarre insect he found in the woods years before. This is probably the best segment: it benefits from the clean lines and ugly character designs of writer/director Charles Burns, and works well enough as a metaphor for continuing a claustrophobic relationship long past the point where it's working. But the animation has an overly fluid, gelatinous quality that makes it look too slick and quite unpleasant at the same time.
Fourth is the story of a bullied Japanese schoolgirl haunted by the ghost of a samurai. It operates on dream logic, not something I've ever found particularly engaging, and as I was already losing interest by this point the movie lost me without any hope of getting me back. Some weird imagery here and there enlivens what is otherwise a simplistic and plain style of animation.
The penultimate episode has a boy narrate the tale of a beast that plagued his small town and the childhood friend who disappeared during the reign of terror. As with the opening segment, the pencil animation goes some way towards redeeming an otherwise plodding exercise.
And finally (finally!), a traveller lost in a blizzard takes refuge in an abandoned house and is terrorised by spectres of the previous occupants. This one starts well, with director Richard McGuire making great use of lighting effects and silhouettes, but it soon becomes nothing but an enervating series of short, sharp shocks.
I'm not unhappy that I watched this movie but I was glad when it was over.
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