Film Review: Autumn Blood

A naïve teenager brutally raped by her neighbors seeks revenge in this bizarre cross between a dour Nordic art film and a '70s exploitation shocker that's unlikely to satisfy fans of either type of movie.
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A small rural family–parents (Jacqueline Le Saunier and Jonas Laux) and two young children, a girl and a younger boy (all the film's characters are nameless)–ekes out a frugal living high in the Austrian Alps, herding cattle, growing vegetables and drawing water from a nearby stream. Their Spartan idyll is shattered when the father is shot to death by the village preacher (Peter Stormare), who, by the fancy wrapped package he comes bearing, appears to have been courting the mother.
 
She raises her children alone, dying when the girl (Sophie Lowe of TV's “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland”) is 16 and her brother (Maximilian Harnisch) ten. They bury her in the woods, and the girl takes over her mother's trips into town to collect their government benefits. The locals can't help but notice the dewy beauty she's become, and she's raped first by the preacher's lout of a son (Samuel Vauramo), and later by the young man's equally brutish friends. A social worker (Annica McCrudden) sent to check on the family suspects something is wrong but learns nothing; nevertheless, her mere presence prompts the guilty men to band together with intent to murder both siblings, thereby erasing all evidence of their crimes. But this time the girl fights back.
 
Imagine rape-revenge shocker I Spit on your Grave (1978) directed by Ingmar Bergman–which is hardly a stretch, since Wes Craven's notorious 1972 Last House on the Left is a variation on Bergman's own The Virgin Spring (1960)–and you'll have a pretty good idea what first-time director Markus Blunder's Autumn Blood is up to. The question is, to what end?
 
As befits Blunders' background as cameraman (his credits include The Jewel of the Nile and Enemy Mine) and still photographer, Autumn Blood is stunningly shot, capturing both the beauty and the harshness of the West Austrian countryside. (The same Tyrolian locations were used, to rather different effect, in the recent dystopian sci-fi movie Snowpiercer.) The performances are uniformly effective (if sometimes less than subtle), especially when one takes into consideration how little dialogue there is: Extended sequences are entirely wordless, there's no idle chatter, and the soundtrack is dominated by the sounds of nature—rushing water, cawing crows, wind rustling through trees—and punctuated by the occasional sharp retort of a gun, as visceral as a slap to the face. But ultimately, Autumn Blood, which proceeds at a pace that could be equally well described as measured or glacial, depending on the viewer's patience for long sequences in which very little transpires, feels less like a fully realized film than a half-imagined idea for one.

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