MOVIE REVIEW – Reminiscent of the Silent Hill video games, Péter Bergendy’s horror film Post Mortem is set in the aftermath of World War I and during the Spanish flu starring Tomas’s rage a former soldier and photographer. He photographs the dead in a village somewhere in a small village in Hungary and has to live through a series of eerie experiences in the company of a little girl and sometimes terrified villagers. It sounds like an original story, but is this “first swan song” of Hungarian horror films strong enough to make the genre genuinely established in Hungary?
It is the end of the First World War in Hungary. Tomas (Viktor Klem) narrowly escapes from the mass grave because he was presumed dead after a bombing raid. Six months later, in a small Hungarian town, in a stall at a fairground during the Spanish flu, Tomas, who has become a photographer, photographs the dead by posing them as if they were alive. It’s post mortem photography, a strange and creepy custom common in the Victorian era, including Britain, and in other countries.
The grim reaper has done his job. Now it’s the turn of the post mortem photographer…
Photographing the dead as if they were alive was indeed very “fashionable” when people were being taken too quickly by this terrible disease. Babies, toddlers, adults all could benefit from this mournful “honour”. The photographer had to be not only a talented photographer but also an undertaker and make-up artist. But all this did not prepare Tomas for the horrors he found in the village where he was called to work because the frozen ground meant that many bodies could not be buried, so he suddenly had a lot of work to do…
Tomas gradually discovers something is very wrong in the village: he hears strange, eerie noises and experiences other supernatural phenomena at night. At the same time, he becomes firmly attached to a little girl, Anna (Fruzsina Hais), and Marcsa (Judit Schell), a village schoolteacher. He has previously seen Anna through a vision she had during a death experience, hence the attachment. Still, the resourceful little girl helps him more and more in his work, and together they begin to investigate the paranormal events.
Silent Hill in the countryside
The movie reminded me somehow strongly of the story and style of the Silent Hill video games and the movie made from it. The first section of the film cleverly builds up the tension gradually, with a tension-building reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock. The protagonist, played by Viktor Klem, is also the type of character – sympathetic but not very strong – through whose point of view the viewer is introduced to the eerie events. He’s a bit like Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now or James Sunderland from Silent Hill 2. Klem’s more subdued acting brings this slightly more neutral character to life, allowing the viewer to feel more involved (like an interactive horror story) than a character with overly characterised traits.
The chemistry between Tomas and Anna also works very well: amidst the horrors they experience, they become more and more attached to each other, especially after finding common ground that binds them together. Their character’s relationship is like that of Joel and Ellie in Last of Us.
The film also evokes Silent Hill with its surreal otherworldly scenes in places and its depiction of the eerie Hungarian village after the First World War, which was also a strong positive.
Mulder and Scully – a little differently
At some point in Post Mortem, it turns into a paranormal investigation of sorts after Tomas tries to find out the background to the horrors in the village. The investigation and the second half of the film alternate between the villagers’ testimonies, their chatter and the ghostly events.
As a sort of Mulder and Scully from the past century, our heroes try to find the background to the increasingly horrific events they are becoming increasingly attached to. Although the film’s last third occasionally veers into grotesque ‘Grand Guignol, the conclusion is still sufficiently cathartic and perhaps even hints at the hope of a sequel.
Hungarian horror has a future.
Post Mortem is a psychologically well-constructed, sufficiently depressing horror, with some particularly visually exciting and spectacular scenes in places and good performances overall. The story is relatively simple, but the horror film that should cast the first stone is Post Mortem, a much more complex story. Viktor Klem and Fruzsina Haizs, the adult-child “paranormal detective pair”, are likeable enough. The chemistry between them works. Although it has to be added that Haizs, the child actor, did not shine in one or two scenes, he still has a lot to learn in the business.
And as for the future of Hungarian horror: this excellent work shows that there is plenty of perspective in this genre in Hungary – perhaps we should not push the increasingly lame “romcoms” (romantic comedies) so much because the attic is already full of them, but leave more room for more exciting genres like this.