In the 11th century a missionary goes missing somewhere in the huge forests bordering the northern parts of Sweden. Among the rescue party chosen to find him is Nanna, a young woman on her first real mission and her first return to the part of the country where she was born. But what they will find deep inside those woods is something else entirely. Something dark. Something ancient. Something evil.
Draug is a Swedish import (seemingly with inspirations from such varied movies as The Descent and Braveheart), enjoying its world premiere at the 18th Annual Screamfest in Los Angeles.
So let’s do a little translation for you.
“Draug” or “Draugr” is an undead creature out of Norse mythology. They are, per the best source on the interwebs (ahem) Wikipedia, “animated corpses with a corporeal body, with similar physical abilities as in life.”
The film follows a group of religious missionaries, on the search through the dense forest, for a different group of missing missionaries. Among the rescue group is a young woman named Nanna (Elna Karlsson), who has been trained in battle by her beloved mentor Hakon (Ralf Beck). When the rescue team is attacked by a rebel band of disgruntled locals, they become lost in the woods. As the day turns into night, they realize that they are being hunted by some sort of blood-thirsty woodland creatures – the titular monsters. Who will survive this supernatural onslaught?
The film is beautifully shot. There’s some successful use of a drone (thankfully not overused), gorgeous lighting (the nighttime sequences are perfectly moody, while losing none of the necessary clarity) and excellent practical effects, makeup and gore.
Costumes, props, set dressing and every other item from the various artisan departments are wonderfully detailed and certainly helped to sell the overall period of the film.
During the film’s climax, the film takes a crazy visual turn, as we finally get some insights into Nanna’s past. The visuals here are trippy, exciting and an easy highlight of the film.
The film also has its fair share of humor – all nicely handled, without distracting from the more serious and frightening nature of the piece.
But… as stunning as the film is visually, there’s a terrible yin to the aesthetic’s beautiful yang.
Where the film falls short, where it “draugs” (i.e. drags) – if you’ll pardon the expression – is in the overall story, pacing and characterization. There’s really not much of either of these necessary assets.
It’s always a tell-tale sign of some sort of failure, if a movie’s run-time is a short 88 minutes, but it feels much longer, and not in a good way. While there are some wonderful moments of action (a Braveheart-esque, hand-to-hand battle sequence), the film’s pace is imperfect.
I’ve said in numerous other reviews – if your film’s pace and story allow me to fall out of the world you’re working to create – and I start to ponder my workload or everyday personal issues – then that’s a massive problem. If a film doesn’t allow for the expected audience escape – that’s a misstep.
I’ve seen it before in films which have access to lovely and foreboding landscapes – there will be lots and lots of walking – thus allowing the filmmakers to paint many beautiful pictures, taking advantage of the picturesque surroundings.
And don’t get me wrong, I love a good “road movie”, but there still needs to be a driving force behind the journey of the characters depicted. I don’t feel that this urgency and need to move ahead – was completely present in Draug. And on that same note, the film’s never quite scary enough. Some of the visuals of the “Draug” are eerie, but nothing ever reaches the depths of “disturbing”.
And on the topic of a journey, there’s simply not enough of one for the central character, Nanna. She certainly tackles several obstacles as the film goes on, and becomes a stronger character because of these trials and tribulations, but the film’s focus (as far as character) is all over the place.
Performances from a large ensemble cast are all quite good. But this is one of those examples of a less-than script not providing quite enough for the actors to embrace and to really dig in.
That being said, I can find no fault with the work of the actors. Karlsson as Nanna is wide-eyed and green in this first adventure/mission. And it’s interesting to watch Nanna become emboldened and brave as the story goes on. There is something of a secret behind the character of Nanna, so the film can’t provide a great deal of history for her – but you’ll appreciate the strength and bravery Karlsson brings to Nanna. As I said above, I just wanted a bit more about her – to help cement the necessary sympathy.
My favorite performance comes from Thomas Hedengran as Kettil – one of Hakon’s former cronies. Hedengran chews a bit of scenery as the drunken and outspoken Kettil, but offers the hints of a kinder character underneath all of the bravado. Kettil is at times funny, at times frightening – but always interesting.
Finally, I had issues with some of the editing. There’s an early sequence where our band of characters stop at a remote homestead, before venturing into the deep, dark woods. Nanna is given a sort of test – to engage with the homestead’s matriarch, who is apparently something of a witch or a “wormcunt” as she is referred to in the film (part of the aforementioned effective humor).
When the old woman conjures a spell, and falls into something of a trance, we then cut to what is happening in the main house, in the storage shed and then back and forth between the three scenes. That’s fine, but after a good five minutes within the house, we cut back to Nanna and the old woman – and no time has passed – nothing has happened. The whole sequence stood out like a sore thumb, certainly in a picture which otherwise was nicely and tensely edited.
Gorgeous visuals, breathtaking landscapes and solid performances can’t overcome a slow pace and what I felt was an incomplete story and shallow characterizations. The film’s not a complete miss, but it’s got its share of problems.
And there you have my 3-star rating.
Draug is still on the festival circuit. No wider release information is yet available.