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FilmInt on the Underground: Everyday Terror in A Dark Souvenir

A DARK SOUVENIR

FilmInt on the Underground is a blog dedicated to emerging filmmakers.

By April L. Smith.

Modern horror films have tended to fall back on gore or jump scares to evoke fear in the viewer. Matthew Pillischer’s A Dark Souvenir uses none of these tricks of genre, instead harkening back to the slow buildup of 70s and early 80s horror. The terror in this film has its roots in the every day. A Dark Souvenir opens with sequences of video clips and snapshots from the Scandinavian honeymoon of Frida (Karen Meshkov) and John Golden (Matthew Pillischer) and initially it feels as if this will be a found footage film on the order of The Blair Witch Project. It isn’t. Rather, this opening and the subsequent imagery of life in their Philadelphia home after their trip only serves to show their normalcy; the way they interact at the table at breakfast or share one of those cozy moments couples do when they’re fully comfortable in their relationship. When things begin to get peculiar, it feels that much more disturbing because the viewer has been lulled into a false sense of security. This film works because the affection and the tension the two share feels real; it’s as if they’ve been together for some years.

The peculiarities begin to occur shortly after Frida and John return from their honeymoon, which was marked by a very unsettling visit to an old fort in Denmark. The newlyweds begin to feel a sense of unease, a sense of being observed. They dismiss this feeling as the result of the ongoing problem they’ve had with the former owner of their home who has been harassing them. Pillischer carefully builds on this feeling using light and shadow and shots of every day objects, which create an environment that feels less like home and more and more like some haunted space. A Dark Souvenir is filled with subtle clues and foreshadowing. The aspects of the film that become the most frightening are when these subtleties return later, far much less subtle and much more threatening. Pillischer directed, wrote and starred in the film and that he is an admirer of horror classics is evident, as the careful viewer will see nods to Coppola’s Dracula, The Blair Witch Project, Poltergeist and Psycho. The fantastic performances of Meshkov and Pillischer make the film; their terror is very convincing. Pillischer doesn’t use much in the way of special effects, instead relying on these performances and careful visuals to evoke this terror, and he is very successful as A Dark Souvenir is smart, melancholic and deeply frightening.

April L. Smith is a blogger and Editorial Assistant for Film International. For more information on this blog, or to submit a film for consideration, contact aprillynnsmith77@gmail.com.

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