Metronomes, not clocks, tick incessantly, underscoring the strange temporality of dreams as our heroine Jessica battles nightmares.
These include a horsehead creature that impales dreamers with a long key (sometimes a key is just a key, to paraphrase Freud). However it’s his Swiss contemporary Jung that is the inspiration here.
The confluence of her grandmother’s death and the woman’s sudden appearance in her increasingly strange dreams spurs an interest in Lucid dreaming (an out-of-body experience variant).
This leads to a sequence of events which defy logic, much like dreams themselves, as Jessica is struck by a flu-like illness and treated by a medic who’s not what he seems.
Her parents are less than supportive of her dream analyses (“fantasies of that quack of a teacher”) and Jessica’s dreams become more and more intense, including one in which she’s dragged into an underwater pool from her bathtub (new age types will cite this as some kind of cleansing or need for self-renewal).
Her subconscious has a wolf protector, and the film maker took great pains to wrangle actual wolves rather than just going with a malamute or husky. These scenes are some of the most touching and harrowing.
This is a gorgeous film to look at, lush and hauntingly beautiful. Fulci player Catriona MacColl plays the domineering mother, abusing both her daughter and the henpecked Jeremy Irons-esque hubbie (amazingly, played by Murray Head of “One Night in Bangkok” fame.) Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux is, to pardon the pun, a dream in the lead role and ably carries the film with her strong performance. Dub-step dots the soundtrack, which other reviewers have pointed out is to the film’s detriment (true, it gives Horsehead a music video vibe) when something more Goblin-esque might’ve sufficed.
Like a dream you wished wasn’t interrupted, there’s something ultimately unsatisfying about Horsehead, the constant waking up from dreams undermining a viewer’s vested interest and also the tectonic plate pacing.
Still, there’s much to take away from it and we hope first-time director Romain Basset haunts our dreams for years to come.
*** (out of 5)