28th Aug2015

Frightfest 2015: ‘III’ Review

by Jack Kirby

Stars: Polina Davydova, Lyubov Ignatushko, Evgeniy Gagarin | Written by Aleksandra Khvaleeva | Directed by Pavel Khvaleev


III is the second feature film by Russian director Pavel Khvaleev. Khvaleev is also a member of the trance act Moonbeam and the aesthetic of the film holds true to this background, at times reminiscent of some high-concept music video. This is a compliment.

III opens with a disturbing sequence in which we see man slowly headbutting himself to death against a wall. It’s simple and very eerie. After a short series of events following this, we are introduced to two sisters, Ayia (Polina Davydova) and Mirra (Lyubov Ignatushko), living in an unspecified time in an unspecified European town. A sickness is plaguing their hometown and their mother succumbs to it. Shortly afterwards, Mirra falls ill too. In desperation, Ayia turns to Father Herman (Evgeniy Gagarin) who after giving up on prayer, offers some rather more supernatural aid. Through ritual, Ayia is able to enter the subconscious of Mirra in order to discover and defeat the root cause of her disease.

Much of the film takes place in some sort of dream-like environment, whether that’s because of the scenes in the subconscious, character’s actual dreams or just the ethereal quality of many of the general scenes. This quality is heightened by the near-constantly moving camera. Even in long shots of the stunning countryside that surrounds the character’s hometown that at first appear static are slowly tracking along the panorama. This adds to the sense of haziness induced by the film. Visually, III is remarkable, with sets, special effects, production design and the colour palette working together to create a striking aesthetic.

Plot-wise, there’s a fairly interesting theological idea running through it that’s slowly brought to the fore, but I’m not sure it’s quite strong enough to hang an entire film on. There are few outright scares, but there are some very disturbing images and themes. The aforementioned Moonbeam provide the film’s score and whilst I did like it in isolation, I don’t think that the processed beats that occur frequently really contribute to the overall atmosphere and remove some of the sense of timelessness.

The trio of leads seem to work well, however the subtitle track lets down some of the dialogue. There’s always going to be a sense of experiencing things at a step removed when you don’t understand a film’s native tongue, but it really isn’t helped by having basic syntax and grammatical errors in the subtitles. Given the attention to detail elsewhere in the film’s production, it’s a shame it’s let down by something that could have been so easily rectified.

III feels perhaps closer to a bunch of interesting thematic and visual ideas than a fully narrative film in its own right – despite the level of care with which it has obviously been produced, there is a slightness to it that somewhat disappoints. That said, it is still a rather luxurious experience in the watching and, as it apparently cannot be stressed enough, something of a tour-de-force visually, which earns it a recommendation from me. One other problem though; what the hell would they be able to call a sequel?

***½  3.5/5



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