[Popcorn Frights] FANGA Review – A Horrifying Tale as Old as Time
Julia Straub says Fanga is a masterful reworking of Beauty and the Beast, employing captivating cinematography and contemporary themes to modernize a tale as old as time.
Writer and director Max Gold’s second feature film Fanga will appeal to horror lovers and Disney enthusiasts alike. Filmed in Iceland, it stars Andrea Snædal, Ingi Hrafn Hilmarsson, and Gudmundur Thorvaldsson. The film is based on the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast (1740), written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in France. The dark fantasy includes a beautiful ambiance and a modern feminist take on the beloved classic—this is fitting, considering the source material was written by a woman.
Rugged farmgirl Belle (Snædal) vigorously cares for her father (Thorvaldsson) after he falls dangerously ill. Desperate to save him, she bravely journies in search of a mythical rose believed to be a cure for his ailment. Unfortunately, she must surrender herself as a prisoner to the flesh-eating Beast (Hilmarsson) as payment for the use of the rose. Battling the Beast’s spell and the two toxic relationships in her life, Belle’s true journey is only just beginning.
The most notable aspect of Fanga is Nico Navia’s spectacular cinematography. In many shots, his camerawork perfectly captures the visually stunning Icelandic landscapes, including the scenic beaches, plains, and mountains. The frames highlight each character’s emotions, particularly the close-ups accentuating the pain and jadedness in Belle’s eyes. Often appearing dull and gray, the focused color palette and center-framed compositions present a singularity in their darkness, creating an aesthetic similar to an old and dark fairy tale.
Gold’s gritty adaptation features modern feminist overtones that highly contrast with the animated romantic fantasy adaptation by Walt Disney Pictures through his reimagining of Belle. Unlike Disney’s damsel in distress, Fanga depicts Belle as a fearless heroine who battles her inner conflicts despite her circumstances. Finding herself at a crossroads, she faces the harsh reality of her codependent and invasive father and must decide if she’ll put herself and her needs first. Gold’s themes add depth to her character, humanizing and heightening her to a level of complexity audiences have not seen before. On her journey of growth and self-discovery, Belle evolves from a singular, beloved fairy tale character to an intriguing, relatable woman that catapults beyond the world of fantasy.
A setback is the quick and somewhat beguiling plot direction. Character motives and tones shift faster than audiences can catch up, and the viewing experience sometimes feels like watching several different films simultaneously. The story is a gory remake of the classic tale at one moment, and the next, a montage shows Belle trying to uncover the facets of the beast’s spell, reminiscent of a romantic comedy. These disjointed moments feature odd singing and dancing and questionable choices about living arrangements before transitioning into a cautionary tale about marriage. With so many moving parts, it’s easy to get lost in the symbolism and lose sight of what is important.
Fanga is a unique spin on the beloved story, with Gold effectively creating new life out of the old folktale. It’s a visual marvel that overcomes the obstacles of a small budget, with Navia’s images helping the film land on its feet. In addition to its stunning final act and enchanting atmosphere, Snædal, Thorvaldsson, and Hilmarsson deliver phenomenal and emotional performances.
Fanga screened at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival on August 11-22, 2022.