Those who’ve followed my reviews know of my fondness for horror films. Also, I’m increasingly grateful for foreign releases: in most cases, the pictures are made entirely outside the American studio system, and, as such, they generally have a rawness of narrative that doesn’t even hint of a marketing creation. Granted, they may have a slickness to them – a veneer that implies they’re hoping for international recognition – but the stories tend to have greater depth of character and circumstance, which gives the production added weight and (hopefully) noble originality.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, as I’ve learned with SENNENTUNTSCHI. Its ambitions can’t match its promise. While it’s constructed with moments of pure cinematic genius, all it goes on for far too long once the curtain has been pulled and the magic has been revealed … so much so that I wondered if a studio system isn’t exactly what it needed to rise above it all!
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
One night at a cabin in the Swiss Alps, three men crafted a magical doll from household oddities in the hopes of summoning up a Sennentuntschi – a fairy maiden who would, by day, see to their Earthly needs but, by night, would deliver up some heavenly pleasures. Twenty-five years later, what really happened one eve in that cabin that resulted in their deaths is still the cause of local legend; but when another young maiden – a mute beauty under a disheveled appearance – shows up for the local constable, the mystery will come alive once more. Could she really be a spirit promising desires beyond belief, or is there a more convention explanation that might expose some dark secret?
SENNENTUNTSCHI is an extremely well-crafted thriller (with strong horror overtones … and plenty of blood here and there thrown in for good measure). In fact, it’s so well-crafted that it almost entirely smacks of production value! Everywhere one looks, the screen is filled with wonderful detail, from its cabins to its rural mountainous settings and the rustic interiors; and, sadly, all of that can only gloss over the slim tale buried underneath its ornate exterior.
At its center, the film promises to be a ghost story involving a female spirit summoned by men whose desires in the material world aren’t being met; and, at that level, the film works very effectively. This rural setting offers very little by way of modern convenience, so the woman who already live have been hardened by life on the mountain. The men long for something lithe and fragile, and that’s precisely what their spell conjures up … or so the audience is led to believe. The reality behind the story – that the woman is little more than the spawn of an inappropriate union between a town elder and (maybe) the original spirit drawn up years before – ends up feeling desperately flat by comparison to the elegantly crafted poetry of the backstory.
Also, the story here unfolds with some curious chronological bookends. For example, the film opens in present day, when a young child is eerily drawn to a spot in the mountains where she discovers a skeleton. Of course, the body draws the attention of the local police, and the lead detective then decides to share the story of what happened before – 75 years previously – via flashback. To make things worse, that flashback contains flashbacks to the original tale that unfolded years before; and when even those begin to reference events that may (or may not) have happened decades and/or centuries earlier, I gave up on trying to make sense of it all.
This isn’t to say that SENNENTUNTSCHI doesn’t have a narrative that works. It does; it’s just that it doesn’t work anywhere nearly as effectively as the ambitious of the storytellers wanted it to work. On that front, it fails – maybe not miserably, but it’s the kind of flick that feels much longer than it is, and that’s never a good thing.
No one wants reality to intrude on the fantastical, and perhaps that inevitably brings about SENNENTUNTSCHI’s inability to entertain when it should’ve merely ‘delighted’ viewers.
SENNENTUNTSCHI (aka SENNENTUNTSCHI: CURSE OF THE ALPS) (2010) is produced by Kontraproduktion AG and Superfilm. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled by Invincible Pictures. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a German-spoken-language release with English subtitles available (there is no English dubbed track). The run-time is 110 minutes, but, honestly, it felt a bit longer as the ending dragged on. As is often the case when these foreign releases find a distributor on American shores, there are no special features to speak of … and that’s a miss: I definitely would’ve turned in for more on this one.
RECOMMENDED. SENNENTUNTSCHI is definitely in that class of film that one wanted to like more but, in the end, just didn’t. Largely, that’s because the picture employs a clever out-of-sync narrative that, ultimately, doesn’t add to the experience so much as it distracts from the relative plainness of the story. It’s stylistically made – so much so some viewers might be mystically drawn in to its spell – yet when you remove all of the gloss it ends up being a contemporary spin on the fractured fairy tale, one that should’ve had more meaning than what it did.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Invincible Pictures provided me with a DVD copy of SENNENTUNTSCHI by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.