Romain Basset’s HORSEHEAD is a stylistic and visually lavish outing that delves into the depths of dreams, symbolism, mental illness and sleep paralysis. All interesting and curious themes that have had punters excited for some time to feast their eyes on Basset’s creation.
Upon the opening sequence it is realized that this is not your typical indie fodder. Incredible lighting, cinematography and score would suggest something of a more high-brow affair, yet aside from these strong notches, the areas that lacked, ultimately let down what is otherwise a powerful and stunningly artistic venture.
HORSEHEAD finds us in the dark and cold world of Jessica (Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux), a diligent student of dream psychology who happens to have her own disturbing dream occurrences. When she returns to her palatial family home in the French countryside after the passing of her Grandmother, she is given an icy reception from her Mother, Catelyn (Catriona MacColl). Jessica swiftly retreats to her room where her dreams become increasingly disturbing and appear to hold information on some rather sinister family secrets. The further Jessica delves, the more dangerous the dreams become, blurring the lines of dreams and reality. Early on in the film a voiceover explains the symbolism related to horses in dreams, and an elusive horse-headed figure plagues Jessica’s nightmares. With the dreaded Horsehead looming in the peripheral, Jessica must ultimately find out the truth behind her Grandmothers passing, risking her own life in the process.
The mood and tone of HORSEHEAD are strong. Gothic, dark, brooding and cold, the visuals of this film could pass for a dark music video and the character relationships complement the setting. It is almost as if the film succeeds so well in figuratively creating an icy environment, that it puts an invisible barrier between the audience and the story, inadvertently pulling the reigns in on the viewers investment in the characters. This could be partially a case of style over substance, but perhaps also the inhumanness of the character development, awkward familial dialogue and unnecessary exposition. There are some scenes that are extremely provocative and outrageous, such as an incestual moment between Mother and Daughter and a horrific birthing scene that takes place in a cathedral. These are visuals that would usually instigate some sort of shock in the viewer, but strangely left this writer feeling underwhelmed.
The character relationships are cold and the editor has sliced and diced the film in a manner that successfully allows the viewer to distinguish between where reality and dream-state cut back and forth, maintaining an overall hallucinatory feeling.
It goes without saying that Bassett should be applauded for this artful accomplishment that he somehow achieved on a such a reportedly low budget. The film does play like a sweat inducing dream and the direction and editing have done a fantastic job at creating that, but unfortunately for this writer, it was a dream that struggled to sustain interest or raise enough emotion within to be remembered the following morning.