I tend to only love old classic-era movies, so I was looking for something more recent to write for this year’s No Sleep October. I also kinda wanted to review a film that is more relatable — to me at least — than a blood-and-guts gore-fest-type horror film. The thin line between the human psyche and the fantastical / supernatural is far scarier, to me, than images of stuff like chainsaws and spurting blood.
The brief description of Marianne on the Netflix listing intrigued me. I can’t remember exactly what it said, but I think it referenced folklore and sleep disorders. So, I clicked play, and I ended up choosing to write about Marianne for this review for a couple of reasons.
The first reason is simple. It was the dedication in the opening credits. First, the words For Mom appear onscreen in a simple white font on a black background. Then the words And For Dad are added onscreen.
Then are added the words: I Miss You.
As a middle-aged person who grieves the loss of both her parents and is haunted by them (in the most grieve-y loving way), that dedication got me good. The dedication made me curious. What is writer-director Filip Tegstedt’s vision with this horror-story gift “for” his parents? My parents, my dad especially, and I loved classic horror movies like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, and this film didn’t sound like it was going to be a simple monster-movie horror movie. Yep, I was intrigued.
The second reason I chose to write about Marianne is that, after watching it, I felt it is the kind of horror story I truly enjoy — a tale that allows you to believe in either supernatural shenanigans or the shenanigans created by the human mind itself (or both!). One of my favorite quotes of all time, from John Milton‘s Paradise Lost:
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
I like that dichotomy in storytelling, I like feeling temporarily scared by onscreen situations that are “spooky” and “psyche-y.” If my reaction is, “What did I just watch?! Was there really a ghost / spirit / demon / whatever impossible entity or was it all in his / her head?” If I end up scared because the impossible seems all too possible, then yowza: That’s a true horror film in my book! I’m pretty happy with those kinds of horror stories; I don’t need gore and spurting blood; that shit’s just too campy and gross!
Here’s the plot. Thomas Hedengran plays Krister, a teacher who begins to experience strange nightmares while trying to redeem his relationship with his daughter Sandra (Sandra Larsson). Sandra resents Krister for cheating on her mother, Eva (Tintin Anderzon). Krister has turned to therapy with Sven (Peter Stormare), to resolve his nightmares. Meanwhile, Sandra’s older pothead boyfriend, Stiff (Dylan M. Johansson) has an intense interest in Nordic folklore — and believes that the titular creature (embodied by Viktoria Sätter) is responsible for Krister’s nightmares.
Okay, back to the two main ideas in the film: night terrors and the mare.
I remember mare from my anthropological studies, but I admit I Googled it to refresh my ancient, leaky sieve of a brain. Here’s the skinny: A mare is an evil spirit, or huldrefolk (hidden folk), that rides on people’s chests while they sleep, often bringing on bad dreams or nightmares. The Swedish word mardröm literally means mara-dream. The Icelandic word martröð means mara-dreaming repeatedly (eeek!). Mara is also a demon in Buddhism, and some Buddhists have amulets blessed by monks to ward off these evil spirits, known in Thailand as the ผีอำ (pee ahm, with pee meaning “ghost”). Mare often appear as a thin young female, dressed in a nightgown. They have pale skin, and long black hair and nails.
Right away, I’m terrified. I have a lung disease that makes breathing while lying down particularly difficult and painful, so the idea of anything “riding” on my chest when I’m asleep is just … way too creepy!
Sleep terrors, also known as night terrors, are … disturbing on many levels. The Mayo Clinic describes them thusly:
Episodes of screaming, intense fear and flailing while still asleep. During a sleep terror episode, a person may:
- Begin with a frightening scream or shout
- Sit up in bed and appear frightened
- Stare wide-eyed
- Sweat, breathe heavily, and have a racing pulse, flushed face, and dilated pupils
- Kick and thrash
- Be hard to awaken, and be confused if awakened
- Be inconsolable
- Have no or little memory of the event the next morning
- Possibly get out of bed and run around the house or have aggressive behavior if blocked or restrained
Some reviewers of this film have written that recurrent isolated sleep paralysis is part of what Krister experiences. That is characterized by an inability to talk or move either at sleep onset or upon awakening (although you are fully conscious, so … yuck!). Auditory, visual and / or tactile hallucinations are often present during episodes.
Yikes, yikes, and more yikes, right?!
Third and fourth elements to the film’s recipe are death and infidelity. Our hero (a loose term because the character is not heroic for most of the film) is a widower, and he was unfaithful to his wife when she was alive. I should mention that wasn’t 100% clear to me as I watched the film, but apparently his mistress’s name was Marianne. Not sure that the title should be Marianne, though, because it makes it seems like 1) the mistress is dead (which isn’t the case) and is the mare, and 2) everything that happens is the mistress’s fault.
Come on, Demon Patriarchy! Is it not all Krister’s fault?
Anyway. I wish the casting of the wife and mistress had been different. The flashback scenes of them confused me a bit because both the dead wife and the (still living?) mistress had similar physical characteristics (dark hair, similar facial features), and sometimes I wasn’t sure which of them was which in a flashback scene.
Back to the story. Krister also has a newborn daughter, his wife having died quite recently. Basically, Marianne is the story of a not-so-nice guy dealing with some unpleasant consequences of his own selfish behaviors.
So, sleep paralysis, night terrors, death and infidelity all paired with the notion of a mare riding your chest: Well yeah, this film is ideally suited for my No Sleep October review — emphasis on no sleep!
The film itself is paced slowly and beautifully. It creeps up on you just like the mare creeps up on Krister, and the excellent score enhances both the horror and melancholic aspects of the story. The actors all do a great job portraying complicated characters, and I love that it is completely up to the viewer to decide who or what is responsible for the tragedies that unfold onscreen. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers; suffice to say the consequences of Krister’s infidelity and selfishness are indeed horrific, whether or not you believe a supernatural being is responsible or you believe Krister makes a Hell of Heav’n and commits the atrocities himself.
Either way, you know the wrong people paid the price for his sins.
As the film ended, a sadness enveloped me. Real life can be sad and disturbing enough without supernatural entities barging in and paralyzing us with terror in the night. Tegstedt has made a slow-boil scary film, one that enters your mind rather slowly at first, one that pulls you further and further into Krister’s nightmare existence, one that ultimately scares you because it seems all too possible. Let’s assume that, like my parents, Tegstedt’s parents loved horror movies and that’s why he so poignantly dedicated the film to them. What a beautifully scary film he made in their honor.
During the writing of this review, I found out a few details about behind-the-scenes stuff that I found interesting. Prior to making the film, Tegstedt stated that part of the reason why there are no good horror films in Sweden is that horror films are seen to be a lower class of film, and therefore less deserving of funding, by the Swedish Film Institute. Because of this perceived genre prejudice, Tegstedt liquidated all his assets, took out a high-interest personal loan, and financed the production of Marianne himself. Now, there were other producers who offered to finance the film, with the condition that Marianne be filmed in Stockholm. But Tegstedt felt that a key part of the story was the northern location of Östersund, which is his hometown, and he wanted the film to be as authentic to his vision.
Then there’s what I found out about Tegstedt’s production company, Jamtfilm AB. There’s not much info out there, I warn you, but see if you can find out more than I did. The official Jamtfilm AB Facebook page states in its most recent post, dated December 22, 2016:
That fact makes me so sad. What a true waking nightmare for Tegstedt, what a horrific end to his beautifully melancholic horror-story gift to his parents.
For most of his life, Evan Dossey has generally avoided horror films. The genre makes him profoundly uncomfortable. This means he has enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Each year, he asks friends and family which essential horror movies he needs to see in order to fill those gaps and spends the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. This year, he’s sharing the month with those friends and family — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is our No Sleep October.
NO SLEEP OCTOBER 2019
Pop Skull – Richard Propes
The Ghost and the Darkness – John Tuttle
Graveyard Shift – Eric Harris
Alien – Nicole Brooks
The Night Stalker / The Night Strangler – Lou Harry
Pet Semetary (1989) – Heather Knight