04th Mar2019

Glasgow Frightfest 2019: ‘The Rusalka’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Margaret Ying Drake, MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel | Written and Directed by Perry Blackshear


Writer-director Perry Blackshear reunites the cast of his debut feature They Look Like People (2015) for The Rusalka (aka The Siren), ahaunting tale of obsession, love and revenge.

Evan Dumouchel plays Tom, a mute from a sheltered background who rents a remote lake house in order to find himself, away from the influence of his church and his deeply religious family. On his first night, he meets Nina (Margaret Ying Drake), a captivating, mysterious woman who swims across the lake and never seems to leave the water. At the same time, Tom befriends Al (MacLeod Andrews), a local man who believes that a monster in the lake killed his husband. When Al sees Tom with Nina, he becomes convinced that she’s a Rusalka (the film’s former title), a mythical creature who’s compelled to drown anyone she encounters.

The performances are excellent. Drake is particularly impressive as Nina and not just because she spends almost the entire film in a lake – she does a remarkable job of balancing both her longing for Tom and the dark urges of the creature inside her, effectively suggesting that both the monster and the young woman share the same body. Similarly, Dumouchel (who looks a little like John Krasinski) is touchingly sweet as naïve, eager Tom, while Andrews is compelling as Al, a man driven slowly mad by his obsession.

Thematically, The Rusalka is extremely rich, exploring intriguing ideas of communication (as a mute, Tom’s hunger to make himself understood is palpable) and the need for a human connection, mixed in with love, desire, anger and the destructive urge for revenge. What’s equally impressive is the way the script allows both the love story and the revenge quest to unfold side-by-side, as if the film itself is a battle between the two conflicting sides of Nina.

Employing a slow burn approach, Blackshear paces the film beautifully, and his refusal to spell things out for the audience is both refreshing and rewarding. On a similar note, there’s remarkably little dialogue, which pays great dividends in the film’s most powerful scene, a heart-stopping moment that’s achieved with just exchanged glances and close-ups on a particular object.

Throughout The Rusalka, Blackshear works wonders with an extremely low budget and The Siren stands as an excellent example of what can be achieved with just three actors and a picturesque lakeside location. In particular, Blackshear eschews special effects in favour of some superbly atmospheric sound design work, including a simple but effective voice modulator for Nina that’s genuinely creepy.

The film is further heightened by an ethereal score from the Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble, which underlines the film’s folkloric vibe. It’s also beautifully shot by Blackshear himself, who makes the most of his lakeside locations and deploys simple lighting tricks to extremely impressive effect, most notably in a tense encounter between Nina and a little girl.

In short, The Rusalka is a strikingly directed and superbly acted creature feature that’s simultaneously charming, creepy and achingly sad.

**** 4/5

The Rusalka, aka The Siren, screened at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Saturday 2nd March, as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2019. The film is set for release from Frightfest Presents on DVD and Digital HD on May 20th.


Comments are closed.