10th Oct2020

Grimmfest 2020: ‘I Am Ren’ Review

by Alain Elliott

Stars: Marta Krol, Marcin Sztabinski, Marieta Zukowska, Janusz Chabior, Olaf Marchwicki | Written and Directed by Piotr Ryczko

Horror has always been impressive at how it handles mental health in its movies and shows. Most recently movies like The Babadook and Hereditary have shown how peoples mental health has deteriorated after a trauma in their life. And I believe in both movies, and several others in the genre, this is handled extremely well. I Am Ren might not explain or show any trauma immediately but it does go down a similar route to these films, albeit in a more sci-fi orientated way.

The main science fiction element of the film comes from the lead characters belief that she is an android. As expected this isn’t simple. No-one around her seems to agree with her, including her husband and her son. Is he the victim in an abusive relationship, are situations in her life driving her literally crazy or is she really android? As the viewer you are never quite sure and you’ll change your mind on more than one occasion. What is real and what’s not is difficult to work out.

I Am Ren has very precise style to it. Sometimes very clinical, almost hospital-like, which works with the themes but also things are generally quite dreary. Again, this connects with the themes teh film is going for. That said, there is something beautiful about some of the outside scenery. A scene outside,with the snow falling across the characters faces looks fantastic.

Marta Krol is excellent in the lead as Reneta, a woman who seems to have constructed her own story that she is an android to perhaps cover up the terrible things she has done in her life. I maybe felt that I didn’t quite feel as sympathetic to her plight at first but you soon get dragged inside her head and how she is feeling. You soon feel that pain and the pressure that she doesn’t know what is real and what is just her mind playing tricks. Krol is fantastic at portraying this suffering.

There’s some really clever moments in the story that make a re-watch needed to take everything in,which is perhaps not surprising given the context of the movie. The end credits would suggest this is a very personal movie for the director and it shows. This is hard-hitting, emotional and full of dread, it’s hard to take much positivity from the movie. But these kind of stories are important. Mental illness needs to be shown in these kind of scenarios, the sci-fi element not making things any less realistic.

It might be too easy too say but this does feel very much like an episode of Black Mirror. The futuristic (but not too far away) setting, dark story, that feels all too real fits the style of that show perfectly. But as a standalone movie it succeeds too. It will be interesting to see if director Piotr Ryczko can bring this tone to other stories.

*** 3/5

I Am Ren screened today, October 10th, as part of this years Grimmfest virtual festival.

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