FrightFest review – Rupintojelis (Pensive)
This Lithuanian slasher movie tells a very familiar story in a unique, refreshing, surprising and ultimately shocking manner. Rimas (Kipras Masidlauskas), high school basketball star and likely to emigrate to America and become an NBA hero, has organised the venue for his school’s big post-graduation party … but it falls through at the last minute, and overlooked, nothing-in-particular classmate Marius (Saruna Rapolas Meliesius) – who has a shy crush on Rimas’ blonde girlfriend Brigita (Gabija Bargailaite) – saves the day by finding a rentable lakeside house in the middle of nowhere which is suitable for the usual teenage hijinx, involving drink, sex, drugs, barbeque and a sauna. However, the presence of ominous folk-art carvings – the title refers to ‘pensive Christ’, a recurring figure in the Baltic States – and a Burning-like tragic backstory strike sinister notes … when the party gets out of hand and the firewood runs out, the teenagers do horrible things to the statues against Marius’ advice, which brings out wood-masked, burn-faced Algis (Marius Repsys) to get revenge in an orgy of gore and slaughter.
The murders only start at the halfway point, after a lot of complicated character set-up … with Marius’ more outgoing best friend Vytas (Povilas Jatkevicius) warming up to quiet, clever alternative chick Saule (Saule Rasimaite), and class drug-crazy Zygmantas (Martynas Berulis) not only throwing his life down the metaphorical toilet (to cheers from everyone else) with his party antics but positioning himself to be literally thrown in a crapper by the stereotype slasher movie woodcarver. There are a lot of characters and many of them get done away with in a disorientingly brief stretch of film before the stalk-and-suspense stuff plays out with the key folk. Director Jonas Trukanas, who co-wrote with Titas Laucius, riffs on many Friday the 13th knock-offs but throws the audience off balance by playing with the stereotypes – jock, wallflower, final girl, etc – and takes risks by concentrating on Marius, who would in most slasher movies be one of the first to die, while sidelining promising final girls and boys or sending characters off on personal side quests.
Meliesius, who deliberately plays bland and disconnected, is affecting, disturbing and hilarious by turns … and has two astonishing reaction scenes, when the father who barely shows any interest in him rings him up in the middle of the ordeal to say how proud he is … that his boy is in a class with Rimas … and when, with almost all their classmates dead, he picks exactly the wrong moment to try to connect with Brigita, who responds devastatingly. By contrast, Algis is minimally characterised – his m.o., which only the real maniac in the party figures out, is to do to individual kids what they’ve done to his beloved statues (surrogates for his lost family). In the later stages of the film, Trukanas takes even more risks – major characters die offscreen – and repositions the story, bringing to the fore relationships we’d almost forgotten about. It works as a straight-up horror movie, but it’s also a strange, funny character story with a chilling payoff.