Psalm 21, 2009.
Directed by Fredrik Hiller.
Starring Jonas Malmsjö, Niklas Falk, Björn Bengtsson, Görel Crona, Josefin Ljungman and Per Ragnar.
Investigating the death of his father, a priest arrives in a desolate village where he inadvertently opens a door to the other side where ghosts from the past begin to cross over into the real world with a single purpose… vengeance.
The subject of hell in films is such an easy thing to handle in a hammy fashion. Once you go down the path with fire, brimstone and laughing red men with hooves, you’re stuck down Dante’s cul de sac of generic visions. Personal hells are usually the best ones, although they can’t really exist outside the genre of psychological horrors. And then of course there’s the other hazard of going down Freudian Lane. And once you go down that road, it’s only a matter of time until you can’t look at your mother the same way again. In the recent Scandinavian horror by Fredrik Hiller, a priest is smothered in the face by his inner demons in a rather compelling and tense fashion.
Psalm 21 feels like a Japanese version of The Sixth Sense with a thoughtful message about the personal definition of hell. Our main man is a priest whose life almost descends into total madness after hearing about the death of his father. What ensues next is a mix between a murder mystery and a Silent Hill videogame. Father Henrik Horneus has a disinterested son and a divorced wife. Despite his seemingly confident nature, he is shown to have an undermining element of pathos which instantly makes you cling to the character. There are many scenes where is played well by Malmsjö as a tortured soul who tries to keep a lid on the font of his emotion. When he gets the call about his father tragically drowning, the performance takes you by slight surprise. This isn’t just another cheap shock in the dark.
Rather than linger on all of the extremely nasty parts constantly, the focus tends to be on the utter saturation of suspense. One moment in the film seemed to act out like a slow motion car crash. Father Horneus is reading from a book whilst a figure emerges from behind him. This ghoulish motion seems to go on for ten minutes, and all throughout I was on the verge of screaming to look behind him. The personal demons in question take the form of the figures of his mother and a recently deceased member of his congregation. Oh! And their faces keep rotting away. It’s a cheap trick to use such CGI wizardry to stir my bowels into terror, but I have to say I think it came across well in places. After the initial shock of having some half melted ghost woman stare at you for a peek a boo moment, the macabre look on their faces. It really gives some of the visions a rather decent nightmare feel to them.
Accompanying the mood of the film is the fantastic musical score. Instead of tailoring itself completely to the horror aspect, it tends to reflect on Father Horneus’s emotional state, usually playing to the tune of tortured soul searching for salvation, rather than a panicky man running from zombies. Along with the moody grey lighting, I felt that they were trying extra hard to remove themselves from the horror genre in some way. But they didn’t stray too far. There are still some fantastic shock moments, even if some are easier to spot out than Canterbury Cathedral. Psalm 21 seems like a cheap horror at first, but soon you’ll find yourself converted. Something that fans of a good psychological horror will truly appreciate and go away a little more thoughtful than before.
Will Preston is a student at the University of Portsmouth. He writes for various blogs (including his own website), presents a weekly radio show on PURE FM and makes various short films.
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