Ginger Nuts of Horror
Dir. Andreas Marschall, Germany, 112 min
This week we're going to be taking a second dip into the work of Andreas Marschall, an exciting German director whose work has propelled him to being one of my favourites. And, different from the other movies of his I have seen, this one is not an anthology movie – Masks is a single storyline and follows the strange goings-on at a remote acting school in the heart of Germany.
And yes, before you say it, there is more than a hint of Giallo here – in fact Masks does pay more than a little homage to Suspiria, in particular. However, even with that in mind, there's plenty here that feels fresh and interesting, as well as enough quality in the production to make it a great watch in its own right.
Our lead character is Stella, a young aspiring actress who doesn't seem to be getting terribly far when she is handed a flyer for an acting school. At first she'd dubious – as well she might be – but so determined is she to pursue her dream that she ultimately decides to go, leaving her boyfriend behind and meeting the strange brand of folks currently inhabiting the school. Naturally she doesn't fit in at first, and it takes a while for her to find a friend – who transpires to be a bit more than a friend – in the shape of Cecile.
In the background of this plays another story entirely, with rumours of a strange technique once taught by the previous tutor of the school, Mateusz Gdula. These stories of extreme methods to encourage students to access all kinds of buried emotions and bring them to their performance – to bring something much more real than acting – hang over the establishment like a pall, and are often whispered of among the students. Inevitably, Stella is eventually offered the chance to go to the part of the school that is usually shut off to most students and learn this method to enhance her skills. And it's here that we go from rumours to stark reality...
Like I've already said, there's no particular secret where this movie draws its inspiration from – it's a giallo through and through, but it also happens to be a very good one, with some decent modern touches. The atmosphere is laid on thick, but remains effective, and the colour scheme is well-chosen and pays a fine homage to its predecessors. The central concept is interesting – offering something of an echo to Marschall's previous movie, Tears of Kali – and is explored in a way that gives some interesting visuals as well as great tense scenes. There's one moment where the silence just goes on and on while you wait for something terrible to happen that becomes almost unbearable. And the finale – in true giallo style – is distinctly bonkers, featuring an excellent but twisted confrontation and some truly unexpected moments.
Regular readers here at Film Gutter will know I've always been partial to German extreme cinema, and it certainly had a very fine pedigree behind it with the likes of Jorg Buttgereit, Marian Dora and many more besides. Andreas Marschall certainly stands out as one of the most exciting names in the current generation, and while Masks may not be his most extreme work it certainly has some pretty bleak moments and keeps much of what has become his trademark in my eyes. The capacity to develop and keep breathless tension remains a powerful feature in his movies, and this tribute to the masters of Giallo is a worthy entry into the canon.
RATING: 8.5/10. The first full-length story I've seen from this director thankfully has all the assets I've enjoyed from his work on anthology movies, and is a movie that delivers in atmosphere, unsettling visuals and interesting character dynamics. The performances also hold up well, and it has a sense of energy and also skill behind it. I wouldn't honestly consider myself the biggest fan of Giallo, but when it's done well it can be fantastic – and I think Masks is certainly the form being done well.
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