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Rick McGrath [Celluloid 02.23.09] movie review drama

[Editor's note: Crepuscule premiered at the recent International Film Festival Rotterdam]

Year: 2009
Directors: Victor Nieuwenhuijs & Maartje Seyferth
Trailer: link (NSFW)
Review by: Dr. Nathan
Rating: 9 out of 10

There’s an old maxim that goes: “Whom the gods would destroy, they first turn mad”. Crepuscule is a stunningly brilliant story about a nameless young girl’s slow and lingering journey from the daylight of sanity to the darkness of madness. And what a long, strange trip it is.

The brainchild of Maartje Seyferth and Victor Nieuwenhuijs (Seyferth wrote the script, Nieuwenhuijs shot it and both co-directed) Crepuscule leads us through the psychological twilight of an alienated and psychotic young woman as she slips thru the cracks of an uncaring society and reveals the deep and complex terror of being trapped in a mind which has severed any and all relationships with the public world of humanity.

And what a curious twilight Crepuscule shows us. Is this a horror movie? No. A psychological thriller? Perhaps. An artsy flick about a good-looking young blonde having a mental breakdown? Probably. But no matter. From the first frames the intense stylization and enigmatic action soon sucks you into its vortex of symbols and meanings, its creeping darkness of inevitability. This is a story that gives you lots of time to imagine the worst, and imagine the worst you will.

How artsy? Here’s one clue: in its 70 minutes, only two words are spoken. They’re “Pow! Pow!” and they are suddenly uttered out of the blue at around the 38 minute mark. That’s it. That’s the dialogue. Is this a silent movie? Nope, there just really isn’t any need for any verbal interaction. And the psychological role of muteness becomes increasingly apparent as the plot unfolds, but not to worry – the emotive, killer soundtrack fills in the aural spaces like Kafka was doing narration.

How good-looking a young blonde? Pretty good. Our heroine with no name is ably played by Nellie Benner in what appears to be her first movie role, and Nellie spends a great deal of time stark naked in Crepuscule, although that’s probably not how you’re going to remember her. Most of the time she’s naked she’s off in some freaky interior world anyway, so these skin scenes aren’t as sexual as you might imagine. She handles the difficult emotive scenes with confidence and aplomb, and manages to make you care for her despite her unwillingness or inability to gain a foothold in reality. In this big picture, she’s excellent as the bonko ballardian babe bouncing between an uncaring external world and the inner torment of her private demons. Obsessive. Distracted. Paranoid. Beautiful.

The trailer might give you the idea this movie also includes a stalker type who does the usual dirty. Not so. Yes, there’s a older man who appears three times, and a brief scene where she’s grabbed on the streets, but her dealing with a stalker is not the point of Crepuscule, and even when she deals with men these scenes have an unexpected, odd resolution. If there’s any stalking going on, it’s inside our girl’s head. And in this instance, one dark twin is overtaking the other.

You’ll also really love the soundtrack. Doomy and gloomy, the music slowly chugs along with the overly-long scenes, adding that perfect emotional layer to the visual slo-mo that sucks you in like cold quicksand. Sound design is by Sander Schreuders, and he chose to colour this flick with the music of contemporary composers like Pierre Bastien, Plan Kruutntoone and Hansko Visser.

Yes, the pace of Crepuscule is glacial -- much like how a twilight seems to last forever on a June night – but the movie’s stylization involves an affection for long, drawn-out scenes in which little physical action happens, and any movement which may jar the foreground is kept at its distance, either spatially or psychologically. Sometimes the pace is so slow it draws attention to itself, but most of the time the montage-like progression of psychologically-telling scenes holds and slowly squeezes you in its inexorable grip. Think of this as one of the ultimate slow burns.

This incredible movie would lose a lot of its zip if I told you how it ends, so I’m not. But I will give you some things to ponder should you have the opportunity to view this particular version of a black hole with nothing but itself to consume. Crepuscule is the dollar word for twilight, more specifically the time between sunset and darkness. So when you see it, watch for all the cool light/dark connections our directors/writer throw in:
• our heroine arrives in the evening, the movie ends in the dead of night
• she differentiates between indoors in her apartment (light) and outdoors (dark) – indoors: mostly naked, obsessive, narcissistic, passionate; outdoors: overdressed, frumpy, bored, distant, alienated
• she changes in appearance and outlook from light to dark -- light: blond, languid, exploratory, working, bored; dark: brunette, paranoid, suicidal, speedy, frightened

What will keep you thinking about this movie, though, is the introduction of a handgun about 30 minutes in. It’s not the gun itself that matters (well, it does, just hold on) -- it’s the way the directors introduce it into the action: it’s night and the girl is asleep on her bed. A female hand slowly enters the frame and puts the gun on her pillow. The hand exits, the girl momentarily awakes, takes the gun and holds it under the covers as she drifts off again. It’s not explained why this is done, nor are we shown who did it. What does it mean? Are we to accept this as some deux ex machina to further the story, and forget it? Granted, in this case the gun doesn’t overtly explain the story, but it does certainly affect the plot. My first reaction was that this is a clue we were entering a dream or mad state, and in actuality there’s no proof that the dream didn’t happen, but given the darkly enigmatic ending, this looks like a nightmare from which you’d scream to wake up.

So, what to make of this oddball action? Here’s an idea: the whole thing could be symbolic, with the gun’s introduction a physical sign of the god’s interaction with the girl, and hence the sign of the descent to follow. Hey, that sounds pretty good… I’ll go with that.

One the gun is introduced – and personally, I would have figured out another way to bring it into the story – our heroine completes her journey to the dark side. In her sanctuary of a room the gun becomes a fetishistic device, an erotic symbol of masculinity that attracts her in an overtly physical manner. Outside, in the dark, the gun loses its potency, becoming useless as a means of self-protection. She only shoots it once, and even then at an imaginary external foe. It doesn’t take long to realize the enemy is inside her head, and then the weapon takes on a much more sinister role as we await the final showdown between light and dark.

Crepuscule, however, doesn’t resolve itself neatly into a finished story. This is one of those oblique narratives in which we have to fill in the blanks. We know little or nothing about the girl, her backstory, her personality, her aversion to people, her alienation from nature, and most importantly, her motivations. And by eradicating any dialogue, any personal interaction, we’re pushed even further away. Like a mute voyeur we can only watch the scenes unfold, and our ability to make sense of the action ultimately converts us to psychiatrists looking for clues by scanning a mortician’s report.

All of which is just fine by me – the enigmatic opens up doors within the viewer, and we’re forced to reach into our own psychic toolbox to see if these dislocated pieces can be assembled into something recognizable. In this case, I’d suggest a kind of psychosis, a divided mind which appears to play a kind of prophetic game with itself (using match sticks and the left hand vs the right hand), all of which is symbolized by the gradual slippage from light to dark. In Crepuscule the gods may still be bent on destroying humanity, but madness in a coldly sane world may ultimately be all that’s left when darkness descends.

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Ben Austwick (13 years ago) Reply

Sounds like there's a touch of Polanski about this one, but even weirder. I'll look forward to it.

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