Review of the Blu-ray version
There's little doubt that this film has divided the opinions of one and all. Some expect horror - well, it's not. Some may be curious as to its alleged 'porn' status, when it has none at all. Yet others pan it as art, albeit obsure and psychotic, for art's sake. It's not. At its heart lie the agonies of its creator in real life, past if not present, for above all this is an intimate analysis of one couple's descent into psychological breakdown, caused by the tragic death of their son.
In this film, it is the mother of the child who takes it upon herself to assume most of the guilt, and her partner - a therapist by profession anyway - gives her therapeutic support and guidance. (The director has been accused of touching upon misogynistic taboos in this regard, with his suggestion that women are evil and men are not) But her breakdown deepens and becomes physically as well as mentally destructive, and the portrayal of this is one of the film's strengths. That it should descend into such horrific images of agonising pain and mutilation is the debatable point - personally I think more could have been left to the viewer's imagination, and there should have been less in the way of sickeningly horrible (as opposed to horrific) imagery. This was the one disappointing element for me, and although I don't doubt that such acts of violence are authentic and possibly based on real events, there was no need to make those images quite so brutally in-your-face in impact; a little subtlety would have been my preference. That's because to an extent it will be these images that people will remember the film for, and some of the very intelligent examinations of depression, panic attacks and nervous breakdowns are almost glossed over as a result. For me, it's the script that works best, its worth paying careful attention to, and while its entertainment fare must admittedly be called into question, it is nevertheless poignant, moving and convincing.
This is not a horror film. I suppose it's a psychological drama but with some shocks for shock's sake, rather than art for art's sake. I'm guessing that this was something of a personal mission for the director, who if he had stayed truer to the core values would have lost a lot of money for its producers; as a result it has been 'shocked up' and given a snazzy but meaningless title so as to attract attention, more viewers, more money. That's understandable I admit - no-one wants to lose money making a film. For the viewer, if he/she can acknowledge that some of the visuals in this film are probably over-done so as to generate controversy, there is actually much to take from the film's more basic message of emotional breakdown. Much the same could be said of the symbolic imagery, which seemed to me to be, at times anyway, created only for artistic effect rather than add any meaningful worth to the story.
The circumstances surrounding the little boy's death are similar to a real and well-publicised incident that took place in New York in 1991, a tragedy that troubled me at the time and has saddened me ever since. For this reason I was particularly interested to see how the parents of the boy in this film came to terms with their grief, and it has to be said that the portayal is credible, disturbing and lays long in the memory.
I watched this in Blu-Ray and I would suggest that anyone with the choice makes the same as I did. In particular the opening scene, or prologue, which is shot in black and white, is superb from a technical perspective. The sound quality throughout is particularly impressive too, with countless sounds of the forest and the outside world coming over in detail and with a great sense of three-dimensional depth of field. What did disappoint me however was the absence of any sub-titles in English (only Danish and Italian), because although I am not hearing-impaired I often use subtitles to make sure I get every word. Set-up options are limited, with only an English audio soundtrack together with a rerun of the film with commentary by the director. On the 'Bonus' menu there are various explanations as to how the film was made, ironically some of which are in Danish with English subtitles!
A good film, then, for those with the capacity, objectivity and perhaps patience to appreciate it - but I accept that this will include far from everybody.