Written by Romain Basset & Karim Chériguène
Directed by Romain Basset
Jessica is a college student studying the psychology of dreams due in part to her lifelong night terrors and intense nightmares. She must return to her childhood home after her mother calls with news of her grandmother’s death. Jessica and her mother have always had a strained relationship, one primary reason being the unknown identity of Jessica’s father. She has a stepfather though, who seems much more understanding, but also unaware of old family secrets. Her first night home, Jessica falls into a lucid dream where she meets the spirit of her grandmother and begins a dream odyssey to uncovering the truth behind her family.
Horsehead is a very visually ambitious film. And most conversations after viewing it will likely revolve around these complex images. However, Horsehead invests so much of its energy into these surreal dreamscapes it loses its grasp on a story that invests us in Jessica and her plight. Eventually, the lines between dream and wakefulness are blurred, and so the audience loses its hold on what is actually happening. The visuals are also not the most interesting and feel very much like art film cliche. I was reminded continuously of late 90s/early 2000s music videos, but not as masterful as a Chris Cunningham or Jonathan Glazer. These visuals are more like someone who really liked those types of music videos and is trying to emulate them without a real sense of style or design.
Because the movie is being sold on the dream sequences, the plot and especially the dialogue has suffered. There is some very heavy-handed exposition doled out early in the film. At one point Jessica has an outburst stating “Maybe I wouldn’t be so angry if you told me about my biological father.” Ouch. That’s such a boring, on the nose, and unnatural way of delivering that information to the audience. It would have added to the air of mystery if the audience was given subtle cues that Jessica was unaware of the paternal side of her family. There is a “villain” present in the dreams which, for some reason, is dressed up like a character out of a Victorian novel. His dialogue is painful every time he speaks, and it is apparent the director thinks these words are so weighty.
It’s quite apparent Basset was influenced by the works of Giallo directors like Dario Argento. Catriona MacColl plays Jessica’s mother and was a frequent collaborator with Lucio Fulci, so Basset is not trying to hide this homage. Colors are used for bold effect, lots of harsh reds and cold blues. The investigative nature of dreams also can’t help but recall David Lynch and his many explorations of the line between dreams and reality. Unlike those artists previously mentioned, Basset just doesn’t have the craft down quite yet.
The film ends on an ambiguous note, which I enjoyed. Not all the mysteries are answered, and there is a genuine consequence for what goes on in the dream world. Though, I didn’t feel a compulsion to return to the film and delve deeper to uncover hidden mysteries. And I think a necessary trait, as seen in films like Suspiria or Lynch’s Twin Peaks, is that the art beckons you to return and you want to go back. When Horsehead was over, I was just done.