[Grimmfest Easter] POST MORTEM Review – A Mourning Portrait Photographer Goes Ghost Hunting
Post Mortem (2020) directed by Péter Bergendy, is a supernatural folk horror film that takes place during the height of the Spanish Flu Pandemic in 1918 following World War I. We find Tomas’ (Viktor Klem) lifeless body on the battlefield. Through visions of a young girl, he is saved and found alive beneath a pile of dead bodies. After leaving the army, Tomas focuses on photography and becomes a post-mortem photographer teaming up with orphaned 10-year-old Anna (Fruzsina Hais), to confront the ghosts that haunt her Hungarian village.
At a carnival, Anna watches Tomas take pictures of the dead and enlists him to come with her to do the same in her village. With the opportunity to make money, he takes the offer and stays with Marsca (Judit Schell), a schoolteacher. Tomas’ first night is not a welcome one. He experiences disturbing noises and sounds, becoming increasingly alarmed. Tomas confronts Marsca about the noises and she asks him if he’s afraid of the dark. As Tomas begins taking portraits of dead family members around the village, the dead become displeased and paranormal activities heighten.
While Tomas and Anna begin to uncover what the dead are trying to communicate, the villagers become targets of the dead, being dragged and thrust around in their homes. The relationship between Tomas and Anna is a bit off-putting. However unintentional, their relationship with one another can be seen as inappropriate. This fault lies with the storytelling but is not a distraction as the film picks up.
Post Mortem was selected by Hungary for the Best International Feature Film Category for the 94th Academy Awards but was not selected. Bergendy’s direction creates a cold and eerie atmosphere, which allows room for some discomfort, but is not enough to scare audiences. While the film brings nothing new to the genre, Bergendy’s commentary on ghost hunting post-World War I is commendable. Klem’s character is indeed a ghost hunter by 20th-century standards: he cleverly uses his dry plate camera, bells, sand, and ropes to catch the ghosts haunting the village.
The film’s best aspects include the special effects. I loved the scene of Tomas’ suitcase sinking in the wet grass and the subtleties of a dog's interaction with the ghosts. Bergendy also finds ways for the ghosts to manipulate and bend people. One scene, in particular, that was unnerving and brilliant was the havoc the ghosts caused in the village in broad daylight. Bodies are levitated, dragged, and pulled across the village causing fear among the villagers. While the effects aren’t pushing the boundaries of paranormal cinema, they definitely work here. The film doesn't shy away from embracing its slow placing, drawing out the tension before delivering an intense third act.