Review: Lyst

Does it live up to its gory hype? Lyst is Severin Eskeland’s second feature film, a rape-revenge psychological horror-thriller where alcohol, pills, blood and self destruction is fatally mixed.

Lisa Rostorp is a famous novelist, living on her own somewhere in Norway. She has sold millions of books, appeared on national talkshows and are in demand by her publisher. However, what takes up most of her mind and time is her anxiety and her scary visions, visions of rape, murder, mutilation. Or are they visions? The lines are blurred in Lyst, the independent horror-thriller which crisscrosses between reality and delusions. Lisa is forced to defend herself after having been raped, but against whom does she defend herself, and how?

With hammers and knives, that’s how. Please don’t think that is a spoiler, because the film’s hype included focus on its brutality from the start of the promotion. Proclaimed by some media as one of the most brutal films ever made in Norway, gorehounds were looking forward to the film, while horror fans in general had nothing else to choose from, if they wanted a Norwegian movie to watch in the first half of 2017. Indeed, Lyst has several gory moments, but is equally focused on the unstable mental state of the young author. The film’s raison d’être is linked to a debate which at least in Norway has been on the agenda for several years; mental disorders, although as the film points out between the lines – not enough. Now, some films dealing with psychiatric patients are introvert, slow and downright boring. Lyst is nowhere near that kind of film. Lisa is violently ill and has physical reactions. The film moves at all times. However, does it move forward? Some repetition is noted, partially because almost the entire story takes place in a couple of rooms, but also because the psychiatrist is not really good at his job. Halfway through the film, there is too little development to keep interest at peak. The film stops exploring and our knowledge and insight does not increase. The body count increases, though. Limbs, vomit, gore, blood, it’s all here, not in an endless splatter festival way but in suitably sprinkled out money shots here and there. There are nude scenes too, not a frequent sight in Norwegian horror, but still part of the genre, especially in independent films. In keeping with the Norwegian kitchen-sink tradition, the nude scenes are not exploitative, but “necessary” and justified (when taking showers, people usually take their clothes off, for example).

Lyst is produced for small potatoes and mostly by volunteers. Eskeland has professional merits, but went the indie route with his latest movie. The film screened in theatres and got disc distribution through AWE, so things look proper but the low budget shows, mainly in the very limited location and in the cinematography. The light is greyish and flat; not moody and atmospheric as maybe the intention was. A reflection of Lisa’s mind? That was possibly the intention, but Lisa’s mind is not empty, it is burning, so I don’t buy that solution.

We also have to talk about the special effects. The body and make-up effects are all practical and in-camera, which is a good thing, and they are also well staged. I doubt we have seen anything like this in Norwegian movies before. Problem: How they are integrated with the film. They are not always seamless enough to give the impression of real bodily harm. Sometimes they are, sometimes not. Insert shots, close-ups and quick edits mask some of the shortcomings, but these maskings show. This is possibly again an attribution of the low budget, but when so much emphasis is put on the gore, it has to be top notch. Let’s be clear: Where Lyst lacks in cash it takes it back with full-on gore, no holds barred. The hype is justified to a large extent and Lyst may actually be the most brutal Norwegian horror film ever, if one looks solely at the graphic violence. It does take some time to build up, though.

Another place where the budget or lack thereof shows is in the acting. Lisa, in the shape of Swedish actress Magdalena From Delis does a good job (her feature debut), in regard to the indie genre task she was handed, but her co-stars and in particular Sondre Krogtoft Larsen, an A-list actor, leave a lot to be desired. It’s not that he or the other actors don’t try – they probbaly did not have a lot of time to rehearse. Krogtoft Larsen is the only other actor with considerable screen time in the film, but he speaks and acts monotonously without passion. Maybe his performance can be seen as a representative of nonfunctioning mental care, an addition to the social commentary, but somehow I don’t think that was the intention, simply because the character is too one-sided. In another Norwegian indie, Christmas Cruelty, the personality and actions of the antagonist is much better representing the failure of society (in a parodical way, of course). The film’s limited physical stage, in terms of both characters and space, is a nice representation of the isolation a person with anxiety might feel, but that only puts more weight on the shoulders of every cast member. Sadly, they appear burdened.

The horror genre is wide and horror fans are often forgiving, as the genre in many ways is the home of B-grade movie making and many films fans came into the movie world that way. Seen as an ambitious arthouse indie horror made by amateurs, Lyst is worth seeing but could have used either more money, more time on the script or a strict producer.

Directed by Severin Eskeland.

Norway, 2017.


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