MovieSteve rating:
Your star rating:

A young woman returns to the Slovakian village she fled as a child, little realising that she’s going to get the frostiest of receptions. She’s a witch, the townsfolk whisper, or the daughter of a witch, or at least lived in the house where the witch lived, they say. And, what’s more, while fleeing all those years before, she pushed her little sister off a cliff to her death. This is true, but the little girl’s death was an accident, a flashback makes clear, but no one in this village is buying that, or trading in hard facts where Šarlota (pronounced Charlotta and played by Natalia Germani) is concerned. She has been tagged, and while Šarlota waits for the legalistic wheels which called her back to her native village to grind to a conclusion, the rumour mill is also turning.

Šarlota raises suspicion in this rural backwater because she represents the attitudes of a young urban woman. She’s also attractive and the men of the village take it for granted that she’s easy. They all want to sleep with her, by force if necessary. This doesn’t make her especially popular with the other women, though some of them want to sleep with her too. So when strange things start happening – animals dying – there’s a ready-made explanation for it all, and someone to peg the blame on.

Nightsiren (Svetlonoc is the original title) is the sort of fairy tale Angela Carter (writer of A Company of Wolves) would recognise: re-imagined, feminist, sexy and violent, and brilliantly played by its lead, Germani, who makes Šarlota an imperilled but not weak woman prepared to stand up for herself.

The focus is resolutely female – Eva Mores as the waiflike Mira (Šarlota’s sister back from the dead?), Juliana Olhová as the angry, possibly just horny Helena, Iva Bittová as Otyla, a bona-fide witch or possibly just a woman who understands the old ways, Jana Olhová as Helena’s mother, a woman with a hint of the witchfinder-general about her. As Rado, the handsome shepherd Šarlota literally stumbles over and sets her cap at, Noel Czuczor gets the sort of “totty” role that’s usually the lot of the female actor.

Rado and Šarlota get close
Rado and Šarlota get close

The forests with the mist rolling off, the fertile land of Slovakia, Nightsiren takes place in the locations where the Grimm brothers’ fairytales come from and Tereza Nvotová (and DP Federico Cesca) pay homage by occasional shifts into the fantastical, though most of the story plays out in a more realistic, paranoid here and now spiked with a fabulous ambiguity.

Nightsiren slots into an ongoing long run of European films with a fairytale flavour, beside the likes of You Won’t Be Alone, Thale, Borgman and even 2012’s The Wall, or the entire oeuvre of Christian Petzold, if you’re being really inclusive. Reaching further back there’s the tradition kept alive by the Communist regimes, with the likes of Viy and Valerie and Her Week of Wonders authorised by cultural tsars disdainful of capitalist iterations of the fantastical, such as superheroes, but who were OK with “authentic” folk art.

There are wolves and snakes in the dark forests where woodcutters and girls in red might be found, but alongside that is also the suggestion that the “old ways” the villagers are keen to re-embrace might be right-wing populism, repressive patriarchy and as much toxic masculinity as you can pile on a plate.

At one poiont Nvotová gets her heroine into a figure-hugging white dress for some “final girl” scenes with a Grimm twist, but Germani also sheds her clothes here and there, there’s a grand witches’ orgy at one point, all dayglo writhing and wanton abandon, scenes that will probably turn up on the websites specialising in accidental nipple-slips and sideboob. Fill your boots, guys, seven league ones preferably.

Nightsiren – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate

© Steve Morrissey 2024

Leave a Comment