There aren’t enough horror movies that deal with folklore; and not generic folklore, like the boogeyman, but small, specific, and most importantly little-known folk tales and myths from around the world. Occasionally one will crop up (though for the life of me I can’t think of any off the top of my head), but when they do, they’re usually lackluster affairs. Sennentuntschi, however, is not like that. Director Michael Steiner manages to take a little known tale – the Sennentuntschi, a popular myth from the German Alps – and construct a beautiful, intricate, and at times downright disturbing thriller out of it.
A young woman wanders into a small village in the Swiss Alps. Dirty, mute, and covered in a shroud, she attracts the attention of Reusch, the local policeman, who takes her in and cares for her. The townspeople, however, are not entirely convinced she’s not a demon responsible for the death of a local priest, found hanged in the Church. Meanwhile, Erwin, a mountain-dwelling herdsman, and his son Albert, take in Martin, a traveler escaping his past, and combat the boredom with copious amounts of absinthe and the Sennentunschi. Their perverted dalliances, however, are not without consequences, and as the secret of the mysterious woman is revealed, the entire foundation of the peaceful village threatens to crumble.
Sennentuntschi is a beautiful film. Sweeping shots of the Swiss Alps set the stage for the loneliness and isolation that rules the lives of the quiet village and neighboring mountain homes while a booming and, at times, epic score complements the perfectly paced rising tension. As the village’s primary lawman and the man responsible for bringing the mysterious woman into the village, Reusch’s isolation is further enhanced by his rift with the townspeople, who fear his intentions as much as they do the presence of the mysterious woman.
Roxane Mesquida in the titular role was phenomenal (and absolutely gorgeous to boot). With almost no dialogue her eyes were filled with every range of emotional necessary of the character, resulting in one of the best performances in the film. As Reusch, Nicholas Ofczarek brought to the role a sort of passiveness and, in contrast to the religious majority in the village, a sense of kindness that does much to temper the brutality that pervades throughout. Andrea Zogg and Carlos Leal as Erwin and Martin, respectively, brought to the fold delightfully disturbing performances that keep knocking you down and bringing you back in with their ability to seamlessly go from kind and gentle men to vile creatures.
The biggest hindrance lies primarily in the execution. Told through a flashback and, at other times, a flashback within a flashback, the film manages to avoid an explicit explanation for the events unfolding, preferring instead to reveal everything toward the very end of the film The end result is a fairly disjointed presentation that relies on a quick dialogue and yet another flashback to reveal just how and why the events took place. When they’re revealed, you’re left scratching your head and trying to piece together the strangely satisfying puzzle.
Despite the confusing nature of the film, Sennentuntschi is a unique and breathtaking experience that captures perfectly (well, presumably) the horrors of isolation and the depths man will go to when alone. It’s dark, sad, and deeply disturbing, all of which make for one Hell of a ride.