PIFF 2022: A Beautiful Curse – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 32 minutes, Director – Martin Garde Abildgaard

Photographer Samuel (Mark Strepan) arrives on a mysterious island where everyone appears to be asleep, striking up a relationship with Stella (Olivia Vinall), the only person who seems to be awake and not monitoring those who are asleep.

There are plenty of questions raised throughout the short 92 minute course of A Beautiful Curse. Some are answered, but many are left with an ambiguous response, or almost nothing at all, at the end of the film. While some feel as if they do need an answer, particularly after having built up so much in the first half, there’s no denying the weird sense of mystery they create within the piece. As photographer Samuel (Mark Strepan) arrives on an island where time appears to have stopped, with everyone having fallen asleep where they stood or sat at that very moment, sirens blare with announcements that anyone still awake should leave immediately, and report to relevant authorities. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be any relevant authorities, aside from the menacing sight of those wearing hazmat suits, inspecting the tags around those who are asleep. They appear to be the only other people who are awake, until Samuel meets Stella (Olivia Vinall); a young woman around his age who he begins to strike up a relationship with, as they both try to survive and avoid the sleep curse that has plagued the rest of the island.

While containing a number of themes and elements which could so easily lean into the horror genre writer-director Martin Garde Abildgaard seems to lean away from such a feeling, instead focusing on the mystery and the questions that are raised. Even as he begins to shift away from the idea of the sleep curse and focuses on the growing relationship between Samuel and Stella there are a handful of questions raised, especially as the narrative appears to begin to jump back and forth in time. An element which, admittedly, does begin to get a bit much in the second half, but certainly manages to intensify the feeling of wondering what is real and what’s perhaps in the character’s minds.

You’re brought in through the conversations that they have, getting to know each other and exploring their strange surroundings – and, indeed, why they’re both present and still awake, to some extent. Strepan and Vinall give good performances which help to keep you engaged in the film particularly as it reaches some of its, perhaps, stranger moments which are generally pulled off thanks to the build up which has occurred beforehand. While the build up may sometimes switch and conflict focus depending on the state of the characters at that particular time, mostly in terms of the sleep curse and their relationship in either half of the narrative, it still manages to create that important sense of intriguing mystery which runs throughout most of the piece and often acts as the biggest hook of your interest and engagement.

The film seems to know this and plays around with just that in the way that it structures itself. The way it starts to potentially jump back and forth in time and still evolves the relationship between the two central figures. How they interact and behave around each other, and things change hinting at just how much might be real and how much may be imagined. Avoiding a horror feeling it simply creates that engaging sense of mystery which is largely carried throughout, even as the narrative slightly structures itself around you. While not every question is answered, perhaps one or two too many, that appears to be the intention and generally it works over the course of A Beautiful Curse which weaves an interesting, weird mystery into its setting and relationship.

While it may leave a handful too many questions open, the mystery within the relationship and sleep curse lines, switching focus between each half, holds your interest and generally keeps you engaged amongst the generally effectively unexplained weirdness of the setting.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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