Co-directed by writer Justin P. Lange and cinematographer Klemens Hufnagl, this fable-like movie follows the relationship between two (literally) damaged children in the dark woods. Plainly influenced by Let the Right One In, this Austrian film (acted in English and set in North America) scrambles the elements of that contemporary classic (vampire girl, abused boy, paedophile) and comes up with a new configuration. With a refreshingly different take on its undead heroine – Mina (Nadia Alexander) is something between a vampire and a zombie – and a quiet, understated approach, it’s a remarkably assured picture.
Josef Hofer (Karl Markovics), a dour-looking shifty fellow in priestly garb, is driving deep into the woods, looking for an evil-sounding region called Devil’s Den, and fugitive from a well-publicised manhunt. After casually murdering the traditional warning-issuing local character, Hofer is waylaid in the woods by a thorny tire-trap and attacked by the voracious Mina. Like the monster of He’s Out There, she’s remembered in the locality as a child who went missing a while back and has been living in the wilds ever since. In the boot of Hofer’s car, Mina – who has grey skin and open wounds, even after feeding – discovers Alex (Toby Nichols), an abducted kid whose eyes have been burned out, giving him a band of scar tissue that matches her mutilation. More afraid of Hofer, who has instilled ‘rules’ in his victim, than his rescuer, Alex eventually comes to depend on Mina. Various folk – cops, reward-seekers – intrude into the forest, and Alex drops hints that Hofer had friends who might still pose a threat. Mina turns violently protective, but also begins to remember her own metamorphosis from relatively normal girl to creature of the dark.
Lange chooses not to explain too much – leaving elements of Mina’s origin obscure, though she goes through a spell of being the victim of an exploitative adult too – and is more interested in the tentative moves the kids make towards friendship and even love in circumstances when any familiar teen romance is impossible. Acted with conviction and permeated with minatory boskiness, it’s a small, whispery fairy tale rather than a horror classic in the making – but it’s very fine. It may be that its only drawback is a rather generic, often-used title.