‘Violett’ is a Parent’s Worst Nightmare [Portland Horror Film Festival]
Now screening at the Portland Horror Film Festival, Violett is a dark, artistic, twisty, and suspenseful thriller. Beyond that, it also functions as a commentary on grief and the nightmarish aftermath a parent endures after losing a child. Writer/director Steven J. Mihaljevich is a visual storyteller that uses color as a primary character. The hues vacillate between beautiful imagery, akin to a Willy Wonka Technicolor dream juxtaposed against dark, dreary imagery in other pieces of the narrative. The colors tell a story but it’s unclear what that story is until all is said and done.
The flick follows Sonya (Georgia Eyers), who seems to exist in a near-perpetual state of sadness. Her only joy comes from the time she spends with her daughter Violett. But she fears that something dark and deadly lurks in the shadows, waiting to take her daughter from her. Because young children in their area have been disappearing, Sonya fears that Violett will be next. With that in mind, she clings to her little girl for dear life.
I should warn you that Violett is something of a slow-burn affair when it comes to narrative developments. But I will give it credit for wasting very little time getting spooky. The macabre imagery and cacophonous score start before a single line of dialogue has even been uttered. The camerawork and editing invoke an immediate sense of dread. Even in somewhat benign situations where nothing especially frightening seems to be happening, there’s still a palpable sense of foreboding that urges the viewer not to get too comfortable because something terrifying must be lurking nearby.
Mihaljevich clearly knows how to craft tension. But with a deliberate approach to narrative progression and a dreamlike peculiarity to the proceedings, I was left wanting more during the first two acts.
With that said, things do take a turn in the third act and the denouement really took me for a spin. For that reason, the slow build is ultimately worth the wait. But I still wish we were given a little more to go on in the early stages.
Speaking of the early stages, the film’s timeline is especially fragmented, and many of the depictions read as surreal. A lot of the exchanges are dreamlike. Some, so much so that it’s quickly apparent that not everything is happening as it’s shown to us. Be it a dream or a hallucination, we can quickly tell that Sonya may not be the most reliable narrator.
We see most of the picture unfold from Sonya’s POV. From her perspective, some sequences are bright and sunny. But they are juxtaposed against other more realistic exchanges that are far gloomier, seemingly underscoring the emptiness within Sonya’s life. By the time all is revealed, we learn that the colors, or lack thereof, are a big part of the visual story and also serve to assist the viewer in understanding what the hell is actually going on.
Grief is a persistent thematic element throughout the film. We get a firsthand look at the havoc a lack of closure wreaks on someone enduring loss and the ways in which it is able to take hold and drive us to an unhealthy place. The film grapples with a parent’s greatest fear: Losing their child. But the thematic elements serve as something of a smokescreen that shields us from predicting a particular development. And I commend that. It’s a sly way to subvert expectations and disarm the viewer before pulling the rug out from under them
Speaking of unexpected developments, there is a reveal that comes around the start of the third act that likely won’t be terribly surprising to the observant viewer. But I’m not sure that it was meant to be. It seems more like Mihaljevich was restricting the flow of information to keep the viewer slightly perplexed. And I think that distinction makes the final reveal all the more surprising. We’re going into the third act a little disoriented and just as we think we have everything sorted and know what’s what, our expectations are subverted.
I don’t always love dark, contemplative, brooding meditations on grief. Films of that ilk are not necessarily a cinematic sweet spot. But in spite of that, I did enjoy Violett. It’s pretty heavy and definitely not a breezy viewing experience. But the flick is artistically strong, with flattering visuals, solid performances, and a great score. Aside from some pacing issues, I quite enjoyed it.
If you’re in my neck of the woods and curious to check it out, Violett is now screening as part of the Portland Horror Film Festival June 7-11.
Steven J. Mihaljevich delivers a slow burn and contemplative affair with ‘Violett’.