Monday, December 21, 2009

The Films of Martin Schmidt

It's quite strange that he's not that well known outside Denmark, because Martin Schmidt is one of the few directors in Scandinavia that returns to horror over and over again. Sure, in between there's some comedy, some TV, some drama - but when you least expect it there's a new horror movie for an unsuspecting audience. I first learned about him when I saw Sidste Time, a stylish slasher set in a school after closing. It begins very typical with the pupils getting stuck in the school with no way of getting out, a brutal killer arrives and starts to kill them of one by one. The ending is extremely cryptic, and I'm not sure what's going on during the last part of the movie - except the bloody deaths of course.

Sidste Time is a very dark slasher, both visually and in theme. The kills are quite violent, but mostly off screen - but there's always some nice aftermath to look at anyway. It lacks in pace during the middle, but picks up fast again until and ending that I still have no idea what it really means. His next movie was Mørkeleg, another slasher, which don't reach the same heights as Sidste Time, but still offers some good thrills and a few bloody murders. This movie feels much smaller, and is set in much smaller building than in the school. An ordinary house, a bit to "set-like" for my taste. This time a bunch of youths are gathered to play a game of Murder, with fake knifes and radio devices to keep in contact, show when you're dead and stuff like that. But someone starts to kill them for real!

Both these movies are rooted in the classic Scandinavian realism, or what Scandinavian film makers think is realism. People act "naturally", there's more humanity in the characters and the clichés is more local than Hollywood. This is of course both good and bad, and a well known problem in Swedish cinema is the "theatrical acting" that is spreading into the movies and have done that for many years.

There's problems like that more in Mørkeleg than in Sidste Time, but Mørkeleg has also better pacing than Sidste Time - and fewer murders. I'm not saying anyone of them is a masterpiece or a bad movie, but Sidste Time is the better one of them, much because of the nice setting and more murders. But anyone who can explain the ending is welcome to explain it to me.

In 2001 Schmidt directed a lesser known movie, but a personal favourite for me: Kat (yes, it means "Cat") about a séance that goes wrong and releases a big cat-like animal that kills it's way through Copenhagen at night. I guess this is one of the first times that a Scandinavian movie uses a CG-animal in a big part, not to shabby actually, and throws in a couple of nice and bloody killings to. I haven't heard much about Kat and how the critical and audience reception was, but I guess it wasn't so good because it never flew the way it should be. I like it because it mixes two horror-genres: occultism and creature feature quite good, and it's not ashamed about it either. Right now it seems hard to find on DVD, which is a pity. I will continue my search to upgrade my old tape.
In 2005 Schmidt directed his last official horror movie so far, Bag det stille ydre (Restless Souls was the English title). I saw it at Fantastic Film Festival in Lund the same year (I think, I was there with a feature movie of my own) and had some contact with Schmidt before. But he couldn't come, which was a pity because I would love to have discussed his horror movies with him in person. Bag det stille ydre is a typical ghost story with involves a crime from the past and a mystery that has to be solved. Though it wasn't graphic like his earlier movies or maybe not as shocking, I would say it's a very competent horror movie (or "Gyser" as the Danish translation is) that both becomes effective because it imitates US and Japanese horrors of the same kind, and also grows because of that. Because who says that a certain style belongs in a certain country?

In Sweden we always say about Swedish movies, "Good to be Swedish", because we never can make movies that has that international quality - not many at least. In Denmark I hope they don't use that expression, because Danish movies are international movies without loosing that special quality.

Check out Martin Schmidt. I like him, which don't mean anything when it comes to my taste, but what can I do? :)

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