Friday, May 17, 2019

Fighting Mad: Laurin

Even compared to John Hughes movies, the adults in this Gothic German film are a flawed lot. They are stern, judgmental, emotionally distant, and often just plain absent. Plus, one of them is a serial killer preying on children. Frankly, there is no guarantee the titular nine-year-old character will live to adulthood herself in Robert Sigl’s Laurin, which screens during Fighting Mad: German Genre Films from the Margins, co-programmed by Dominik Graf and presented at the Quad, in conjunction with the Graf retrospective coming soon to Anthology Film Archives.

This should be an idyllic time for Laurin Andersen, but she is haunted by the memory, or hallucination, of the killer’s latest victim knocking on her window for help on the night he was killed. As fate would have it, her mother Flora was also murdered that night, when she stumbled across the mystery maniac while disposing of his latest victim. Rather inconceivably, her beloved father Arne ships out as scheduled, shortly thereafter, leaving her in the care of her strict, alcoholic grandmother. It rather follows that Laurin now suspects the killer is now out to get her—and maybe he is.

The vibe of Laurin is hazily gothic, but the German language and the Teutonic characters give the film a harder edge. Her childhood is really shaping up to be pretty awful, but it is hard to judge with certainty what is real and what is illusion or delusion during the course of the film. There are not a lot of overt horror elements, but the film is absolutely drenched atmosphere and foreboding. In terms of the period look and trappings, it compares favorably with the best of Hammer Horror films.

Dora Szinetar has the perfect look for Laurin—hugely vulnerable but maybe not entirely innocent. She definitely keeps viewers guessing regarding her reliability as the central vantage point character. Karoly Eperjes also gives a subtle but decidedly genre-appropriate performance as Van Rees, the new school master, who is haunted by his similarly awful childhood. The two develop a weird rapport that really elevates the film.

Although it was released in 1989, Laurin is a perfect film to revisit/rediscover in light of the boom in interest for horror-not-horror films like Robert Eggers’ The Witch, which, in fact, would be quite an apt comparison title. It is a slow, but creepy build that capitalizes on a lot of commonly held, archetypal childhood fears, buried deep within our collective subconscious. Highly recommended, Laurin screens this afternoon and this coming Tuesday (5/21), as part of the German genre series at the Quad.