Ginger Nuts of Horror
By Alex Davis
Dir. Kasper Juhl, Denmark, 100 mins
Come on in, the water's beautiful...
The extreme horror scene is one where a new name can really emerge and make a great impression. In recent years we've seen fantastic talents like Phil Stevens and Arthur Cullipher come through, among many others, and a name that keeps circling onto my radar is Kasper Juhl. Still only 26, the Danish writer/director has just finished his seventh movie, Your Flesh, Your Curse, and here at Film Gutter we were lucky enough to have the chance to take a look at his latest.
Your Flesh, Your Curse follows the story of Juliet White, a beautiful but broken young woman who spends most of her life in a haze of either alcoholic binging or drug-fuelled paralysis. She has a few friends, all of whom encourage and share in this type of behaviour. There are hints from early on that Juliet has some pretty serious past trauma, which is confirmed in a video clip from her father apologising for the horrible abuse he inflicted upon her. This seems to see her revisiting – maybe even being unable to resist – abusive characters in her life, and we see her endure some pretty torrid sexual encounters in the opening of the movie.
Sounds pretty dark, right? Well, rest assured YF,YC is merely warming up at this point. When Juliet passes out in public as a result of her drug use, she's found by Max, who forces himself upon her before slashing her throat. And here begins a sort of hell for Juliet, who is forced to relive some of the most awful events from her history, as well as experiencing new aspects of nightmare.
There are three main things I want to say about this movie, two good and one not so good, and I'll endeavour to do so without giving any spoilers. First off, this one is beautifully shot – everything looks stunning and there's obviously been a great deal of thought about the look and feel of this film. There are a lot of fine details that add a lot, and even the grubbiest and filthiest of scenes are shot cleanly and with real precision. There's no doubt this is a skilled cinematographer at work – it's lavish and it's perfectly easy to get lost in its arthouse qualities.
Secondly, the lead actress in the role of Juliet, Marie-Louise Damgaard, is absolutely fantastic. Obviously a vast chunk of the story hangs on her performance, and she really delivers – it's not hard to believe that she's genuinely going through hell here. The whole thing looks like an extremely difficult shoot to put yourself through, as Juliet spends a great deal of the time going through either physical or mental abuse at the hands of many different characters. It feels like a real landmark performance for her – in fact I struggle to think of many better leading roles that I've seen in extreme horror. It just feels real, which is a true testament to it, and I'm sure there are bigger things ahead for her.
The last thing I have to say is that – for all that I think this movie is overall very good – it did leave me feeling pretty confused and a little uncertain as to what I had just witnessed. I'm not averse to a bit of abstraction or alternative storytelling – in fact I'm something of a fan of it – but I don't feel like I really had enough to grasp onto that was cogent. I couldn't really tell you adequately what Juliet's arc was, and I don't think we really have a suitable resolution of the dark story with her father – I thought that was going to be a key part of the film, but didn't really seem to go anywhere (unless you choose one certain interpretation of the pretty ambiguous finale). Our ending scene suggests some sort of character development, but other than that it's almost a montage – one that is in equal parts glorious and harrowing, but a montage nonetheless.
With the above said, don't make any mistakes, YF, YC is extremely good. I mentioned Phil Stevens earlier on and the comparison is practically an irresistible one – these two young directors are really exploring just how beautiful and arthouse extreme horror can be in a way that is rarely done. If your view is that extreme horror means that is has to be grimy and visually unappealing, I suggest you watch this film and prepare to eat your words.
RATING: 9/10. Your Flesh, Your Curse is stunning to watch, superbly acted and kind of washed over me (in a positive way!) as a watch – I was fully immersed, so much so that when the movie came to an end I found myself pretty surprised. The overall effect is impressive, and this is obviously a filmmaker delivering a singular vision really powerfully. The surprise came because in some way I had expected something more of the plot to reveal itself – the last scenes are pretty ambiguous, and it's a film that not just begs but basically requires some viewer interpretation. If that's your thing, then you should check this out for sure – in fact if you like your extreme with more of an artistic angle, I'd suggest this is essential viewing. It's the kind of bold and brave filmmaking that suits me to a tee as a viewer – 9/10 from me.