Gebbe delves into supernatural territory in the final act, with black magic, decapitated stallions, and blood sacrifices all taking place. Yet it’s not a jarring transition, nor is it to be taken literally. The ending, as mad as some are bound to claim it is, fits in well with the film’s central themes of the perils of motherhood—of how far a mother will go to piece together her broken child.
And that’s what ultimately separates Pelican Blood from the host of “evil child” films that precede it (see: The Exorcist, The Omen, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Joshua, Orphan, and so on). Gebbe may borrow elements from these features, but her film pulsates with post-feminist angst and a tantalizing sense of ambiguity that makes it stand on its own. Wiebke, sporting a scar on her face from a very possible altercation with a man, has chosen a life of solitude, away from civilization—just her and her stallions. Akin to Raya, who’s been denied a childhood, Wiebke’s been denied a motherhood, emphasized in the scene where her body naturally reacts to the extreme, continuous proximity with a needy child.
“…goes a long way towards grounding the proceedings with a heartbreaking, utterly realistic performance.”
“Now you need a papa for those two,” Wiebke’s friend wryly comments – but does she, really? Perhaps it’s more about self-actualization for Wiebke, perhaps she is strong enough to figure it out on her own – although the urge is there, and temptation’s always nearby. Yet it’s during the blue moon – which represents female empowerment – that Wiebke, along with her daughters, manages to achieve a semblance of redemption.
Nina Hoss goes a long way towards grounding the proceedings with a heartbreaking, utterly realistic performance. She guides us through every horrific incident, every glimmer of hope, every failure. She makes us understand Wiebke and root for her, despite her arguably irrational behavior. It’s an incredibly tough act to pull off, but Hoss does so effortlessly, once again proving that she’s one of the very best actors working today. Katerina Lipovska is a revelation as Raya. She never goes “full demon-child,” careful to reign it in long enough for us to see her vulnerable, innocent, traumatized soul.
I’m sure lil’ Katerina received formidable support from Gebbe, who handles each scene with robust assurance and poignancy, gradually and masterfully building tension. The filmmaker is greatly aided by cinematographer Moritz Schultheiss, who vividly captures haunting images: horses waking up at dawn, a ride through a wintry countryside, mist rising over the fields… Pelican Blood touches upon every mother – and woman’s – deepest fear. It’s not an easy watch by any means, and is bound to divide critics – but there’s no denying its forceful, searing power and the long, crimson-red shadow it casts.
Pelican Blood screened at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.