The Damned Image

The Damned

By Terry Sherwood | June 27, 2024

Horror films, for many, have become material that is calculated to upset the viewer. The extreme gore and situations of French Extreme cinema, as well as Italian cannibal films of the past, offer variety and perspectives from different places in that country’s collective consciousness. The genre has forgotten how to scare. To create a feeling of uneasiness. As subtle as fingernails on a chalkboard, as directly chilling as a cold blast of air after a shower is how I found Thordur Palsson’s film  The Damned.

This lovingly photographed by Eli Arenson desolate film draws on Icelandic folklore to create a tale of paranoia and superstition in an isolated place. Set in the 19th century, in a tiny remote fishing village, widow Eva (Odessa Young) oversees her husband’s fishing boat. She retains control over the craft, which she lends to the town’s rough and ready crew of fishermen. The village more collection of huts in the snow is running low on food, so every choice and every ration counts. The crew of men get along, singing drinking and fishing songs by lamps in their pub, but tensions seem to simmer just beneath this camaraderie and good-natured ribald ribbing in the form of masculine rivalries.

When a wrecked ship on the ice is spotted not far away one morning, the people are faced with the dilemma of whether to spend time and resources on search and rescue. Not subject to maritime law as no distress signal was present and perhaps the moral law of the sea could help, the debate rages on even to the point of not wanting to light the beacon fires. Miraculously, the shipwreck begins washing valuable food and drink items ashore, aiding the village. Venturing out on treacherous rocks, where survivors might be stranded, risking being trapped themselves, the crew ventures forth, finding in one of the most effective moments their chilling physical form, rooted and glowing eyes in the shadows they see in the darkness, are real or spectral. These forms desperately fight to climb aboard the craft, and the men desperately beat them back with oars, weapons barely escaping with losses of their own. Strange occurrences begin to filter in as their harsh decisions start to literally haunt them.

“…desolate film draws on Icelandic folklore to create a tale of paranoia and superstition in an isolated place…”

Eva, wrought with self-doubt over how best to lead around her young, handsome subordinate Daniel (Joe Cole), yields yet another dilemma of a possible romance.   Bodies wash up on shore and are placed in boxes not buried due to frost. At night, in the wind, one hears scratching from the boxes. Even when food is stolen, the suspects are dead. Are the dead harassing the living, taking revenge, or is this simply madness of isolation? Figures creep in the shadows, building tension. Men begin to see figures that drive them to the edge of insanity to be silenced by blows of the head. Indeed, the ending in the ice fog casts doubt on whether there is a supernatural.

The actors sometimes over-explain themselves in dialogue or become victims without trying to understand or learn from what is happening to them.

The Damned is an oppressive film filled with static images of ice fields, dark, almost chiaroscuro moments in cabins, and thoughtful, if not over-indulgent, dialogue. The effect is numbing as one sinks into the film world of icy depths and the unknown of perhaps spectral bodies in boxes on a sheet of ice. Bringing to mind such folk horrors set in the old world such as Robert Eggers’ The Witch and another sea-bound story in the TV drama The Terror, you have a brooding psychological experience. A wonderful choral score by Stephan McKeon adds to the authentic look of people marooned, perhaps in their private hell. The effect is chilling.   After all, referring to other supernatural creatures,’ the greatest strength is that one does not believe until it is too late,” which is for the audience to decide.

The Damned (2024)

Directed: Thordur Palsson

Written: Jamie Hannigan, Thordur Palsson

Starring: Odessa Young, Joe Cole, Lewis Gribben, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

The Damned Image

"…you have a brooding psychological experience."

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