Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Holy Place

Sveto mesto; horror, Serbia, 1990; D: Đorđe Kadijević, S: Dragan Jovanović, Branka Pujić, Aleksandar Berček, Mira Banjac

Three young theologians spend the night at an isolated shack, but its owner, an old woman, turns out to be a witch who attacks one of them, Toma. Previously, he encountered a carriage carrying a woman, Katarina, but his two friends did not see her. A few days later, Toma is summoned to a village where he meets Katarina again - but she is dead, and her father wants him to spend three nights praying over her coffin in a locked up church. To Toma's surprise, Katarina wakes up from the dead the first two nights, yet he is able to repent her by drawing a circle around him. During the day, he hears that she was a witch and died while going to a church. The final night, Katarina kicks him unconscious - when the people find him sleeping in her coffin, they kill him.

Despite its high reputation, "A Holy Place" is an underdeveloped horror that gains some points for being exotically set in the Serbian rural landscape, but its finely established creepy mood in the first 10 minutes quickly loses its vibe and slowly starts to sink into a tiresome, boring story that does not manage to ignite it again. The concept of a young priest who has to pray over a dead woman for three nights, but she wakes up since she is a witch, really had potentials for great suspense, and thus it is unbelievable that director Đorđe Kadijević took a diametrically opposite - and wrong - approach: for one, each of the three nights occupy only three minutes of running time, which is too little compared to the whole story to keep it gripping. It would have been far better if the director made a 'kammerspiel' out of that, building a story only around the priest and the menacing woman. Secondly, the mood is further crumbed down since the priest exits the church and spends the days between his task out on the open, but does not tell anyone about his encounters for some reason. Thirdly, either keep a scary story in the unknown term or show something really dangerous, but since the worst thing the witch can do here is it to kick a guy in the crotch, one cannot but wonder what's the big deal that distinguishes her from anybody else. Kadijević focused too much on the uninteresting (priest talking with peasants during the day) instead of on the interesting, pushing the suspenseful main plot in the background, achieving a semi-satisfying, but easily watchable film.


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