The Danish feature “Princess” provides a tempting use of mixed media. Pitched as a “midnight animation” feature, this dark-themed film illustrates characters with the kind of heavy outlines often found in graphic novels. Many well-composed shots present characters floating over the background. To create stylized visuals, the film uses images of different textures overlaying one another. The representation of a moving camera helps make this animation into a mysterious alternate reality.
The style suits the content well, as “Princess” focuses on the revenge taken by a man named August against those who abused Mia, his five-year-old niece. Mia, who looks like “Dora the Explorer’s” depressed twin sister, suffered abuse while cared for by Christina, her deceased mother and a notorious porn star. August takes in Mia from a promiscuous hag who offers a glimpse at the disturbing environment in which this poor little girl was trapped. The milieu is so despondent that the filmmakers likely had no choice but to use animation, since a fictional depiction of this world would be too much for a child actor.
August learns of Mia’s abuse as soon as he changes her for the first time. He then sets out to find her perpetrators, which means that he must investigate the perverse, brutal world that his sister fell into. With an elongated, brooding face but plenty of brawn, August turns into something of a master killer when confronting men from Christina’s past. He tosses them through plate glass windows and tears their flesh with his bare hands. (Other reasons that make animation mandatory, I suppose.) But this film is not packed full with high-kinetic scenes: “Princess” is more preoccupied with investigating Christina’s dark past and August’s attempts to come to terms with it.
While the mixed media creates a uniquely disturbing atmosphere, the approach also makes Christina into an uncanny presence. She appears as a live action character on raw video footage. While these shots play like obvious backstory inserts – it’s as if each event was filmed to answer a specific question for the viewer – Christina appears to be a carefree teen who wants to live it up. She’s quite similar to the young women who perform sex on websites and forever trap themselves in the act. By showing Christina prior to her daughter’s abuse, and Mia after it, the film forces viewers to imagine the orgiastic but violent hidden text of the story.
The narrative alternates from subtle to visceral: while we witness August forming a bond with his niece, we cannot avoid evidence of the turmoil she must overcome. Fortunately, August’s revenge sequences do not minimize the focus on his growing relationship with Mia. The filmmakers blend these tones much better than they bring the story to a climax. In a shocking finale which offers a destiny for Mia and her uncle, “Princess” delivers a solution but ignores its characters’ problems.