The Russian Bride opens with a beautiful, retro title card featuring bright red script, paired with an eerie violin score, setting the tone for a cinematic haunted house tale of yore. While much of the film upholds the nostalgic sense of darkness and dread found in films like the Universal classics, make no mistake – writer/director Michael S. Ojeda’s The Russian Bride is a much more bizarre film all its own.
Struggling single mother, Nina (Oksana Orlan), sets her eyes on The United States to make a better life for her beloved daughter, Dasha (Kristina Pimenova). She meets Karl (Corbin Bernsen), a very wealthy widower and retired plastic surgeon, on a website for men searching for Russian wives. Nina decides to uproot her small family from their run-down apartment in Russia to Karl’s luxurious, picturesque mansion somewhere in the American countryside. They are soon married, and as the couple continues to learn about each other, it becomes apparent to Nina that Karl may be harboring some nefarious intentions for his new wife and stepdaughter.
Strangely, The Russian Bride seems to bounce back and forth between things that work and things that don’t, making it difficult to determine whether or not the movie is at least okay for about the first half. For example, just after Nina and Dasha arrive at Karl’s house, there is a decently creepy scene, followed by an awkward transition and stiff acting. Then, just before a truly awful shot of a CGI version of the front of the mansion, the new family experiences an ominous power outage during a dinner scene featuring gorgeous cinematography. For every positive note there is a negative one, which makes the film feel a bit bland.
However, the film does eventually work out its kinks in enough time to keep us watching. It’s important to stick with the film until the final act. While it may not appear so at first, The Russian Bride is refreshingly unique and not at all dull.
Ojeda takes us on a deceptively tame ride for much of the film, making the audience look one way while he leads us in a completely different direction. When Nina and Dasha first arrive at Karl’s mansion, we think we know how the story will go: ghosts, possibly a monster, a mystery solved. Sure, there are elements of some of those things, but what we’re ultimately given instead is so out of left field that it’s a true marvel. Ojeda goes wild with The Russian Bride and, depending on your disposition, it’s so fun that it works. For some, the tonal and stylistic shift may be jarring, but if you’re able to go wherever the movie takes you, it will reward your patience with an outlandish, over-the-top, and utterly singular vision.
The film’s insane twist may not be enough to make the movie great, but it will at least be memorable. Ojeda manages to break some new ground – or at least cross boundaries – with this movie, it’s just unfortunate that the film leading up to the final act isn’t terribly strong. However, despite its weaknesses, The Russian Bride is worth a watch for those who want to see something truly odd.