J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Brooklyn Horror ’18: Tower. A Bright Day

There have been plenty of sisters in horror movies, such as The Shining, Twins of Evil, and A Tale of Two Sisters. Usually, it is immediately clear what we should make of them and their relationship (assuming that word still applies), but Mula and Kaja are something else entirely. There is no question their sibling ties have frayed, but just who we should sympathize with, if anyone at all, is hard to judge. Regardless, family is the ultimate horror show in Jagoda Szelc’s Tower. A Bright Day (trailer here), which screens tonight as a selection of the 2018 Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.

Kaja is a little off, but there are good reasons for her aloofness. After a long absence (obviously implied to be a term of institutionalization), Mula has allowed her to attend a family celebration. It will be the first communion of Nina, Kaja’s daughter, whom Mula and her husband have raised as their own. As part of the ground rules, Kaja must strictly preserve this secret. Nevertheless, her quick rapport with her biological daughter inevitably unnerves Mula.

Soon the responsible sister’s neuroses are bubbling over, but her family hardly notices. They are too distracted by the sudden miracle-like recovery of her formerly dementia-addled mother, Ada. For her happy-go-lucky brother Andrzej and his wife, it is another reason to celebrate, but Mula and the audience will pick up on ominous signs and a general vibe of foreboding.

Isabella Eklöf’s Holiday is bound to be the most divisive film at Brooklyn Horror for content reasons (we saw it at Sundance and still don’t feel like revisiting it), but Tower is bound to inspire equally divided reactions, solely for its aesthetic. Just calling it a horror movie is controversial (but defensible). Szelc truly instills the film with an utterly eerie vibe (it is almost Hanging Rock-esque), but she is maddeningly committed to its ambiguous indeterminacy. What ultimately happens? It gets big-picture apocalyptic, yet it is still hard to say with any certainty.

Regardless of all that, great credit is due to the ensemble (a few of whom are actually related), which truly convinces us they are a messy, unruly, angst-ridden family. Malgorzata Szczerbowska sets off all sorts of alarm bells as Kaja, yet we sometimes feel instinctively inclined to take her side against her overbearing sister. Anna Krotoska is forceful yet nakedly exposed (sometimes literally) as the martyr-complex-suffering Mula. Yet, Artur Krajewski is probably more unsettling than anyone playing the unnamed priest, who is undeniably losing his faith and might even be the subject of some sort of insidious supernatural attack.

Frankly, this film has A24 (the distributor of The Witch, Woodshock, and It Comes at Night) written all over it. The atmosphere is haunting, but the narrative so excessively murky, it becomes impossible to take any real meaning from it. The vibe is strong and there are a number of interesting bits, but it might behoove Szelc to work with a co-screenwriter on her next project. Only recommended for hipster cineastes who prefer genre films on the obscure side of the spectrum, Tower. A Bright Day had its East Coast premiere at this year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.

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