Ennio Midena (Stefan Sauk) once ran the best video rental store in Sweden – now, he lives in an apartment crowded out by library shelves full of rare VHS tapes, chugging J&B from the bottle (persumably because of its product placement omnipresence in gialli), associating mostly with similar obsessives he can argue with about whether Rosalba Neri ever used a body double or why Fulci is better than Argento. Writer-director Kristian A. Söderström gives this film a semi-giallo/suspense aspect as it seems Ennio has a chance to clear his debts by selling a rare VHS of Zombie to Faceless (Carolin Stoltz), a mystery woman with a bad reputation, only to find a gap on his shelves where the cassette ought to be and driven to try and sleuth out which of his friends might have purloined the prize even as a masked minion stalks and threatens him. Knowingly, the film deploys Bava-ish lighting effects in the video labyrinth and has Ennio hallucinate a Deep Red-like reflection in a pool of blood.
Despite appearances, this isn’t a thriller but a study of a damaged romance – like Ken Loach’s My Name is Joe or several Mike Leigh films – as Ennio hooks up with Simone (Lena Nilsson), a middle-aged bottle blonde alcoholic desperate for Instagram likes, the respect of her mocking workmates and attention from her grown-up daughter. Like Ennio, Simone has odd interests – 80s pop music, Ancient Egypt – which ought to intersect, but when he shows up for a date with some suitable viewing material, his Region 1 DVD of Manhattan Baby won’t play on her Swedish machine and she doesn’t have a VHS player on which they can watch his cassette of Sphinx. It’s indulgent of obsessive interests, but clear-eyed about addictions and the self-destructive behaviour that comes along with them … neither of the leads are easy characters to be around but the film does get us on side with them, even as they both frequently have lapses which make things difficult for people they know. Sven Wollter, from The Sacrifice and Man From Majorca, has a nice bit as an upstairs neighbour who knows the score, and Amanda Ooms, the werewolf from Wilderness, is suitably venomous as a bitchy colleague who would like Simone to resign. Like so many films at this year’s FrightFest, it’s heavy on the 80s synth sounds.