A good portion of American indie horror flicks deal with an outside (generally malevolent) force that impacts a person or a family unit. Lately I'm noticing a proclivity in smaller foreign genre flicks to go the other way: how a mundane "everyday" tragedy is the impetus for the terrors at hand. That's a basic way of saying that the recent Swedish thriller Marianne is a dramatic piece, first and foremost, and a rather quietly engrossing one, too. But what's most interesting is how the flick turns from domestic tragedy to legitimate horror tale without cutting any corners, tipping its hand, or cheating its audience.
First-time writer/director Filip Tegstedt is not interested in an external "monster" that attacks a family; instead he offers a something a bit more cerebral and insidious: a creature born of guilt, neglect, and selfishness. A creature that, once unleashed, is virtually impossible to put down. Backed by a fantastic cast and a palpable sense of effective gloom, Marianne follows the story of a neglectful man whose wife has recently died in a car accident. Krister (an excellent Thomas Hedengran) is left with two daughters: one a helpless infant and the other a stubborn bitch of a teenager.
But beyond the grief of losing his wife, his concern for his children, and his general air of unhappiness, Krister has a nasty collection of dark secrets tucked away in his mind -- and they're not the kind of secrets that will fade away quietly.
To say much more would rob Marianne of its quietly confident transformation from tragic drama to effective horror, but it's this transition that makes the film such a cool little story to discover. Despite some sobering turns and effective jolts, Tegstedt is also able to wring some sedate but amusing moments from his cast. How much you're able to "buy" the creepy stuff depends directly on how much you can relate to Krister, and we get to know the character through smart, small moments with his daughter, his mother-in-law, and a family friend who, despite his silly nature, may actually have a clue as to what's going on in our protagonist's fractured mind.
Without some true sincerity and a dash of insight, a horror film like Marianne could easily turn into a well-intentioned bore. Such is clearly not the case here. Although probably not recommended for the hardcore gorehounds, the creepy, insightful and effectively melancholy Marianne is a quiet little winner.