★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Once upon a time in Estonia, there was a spooky anthology gem that stitched together four fantastical tales of dread. Though only one of them truly feels like a Fairy Tale, each of them spins scintillating storytelling and backs them up with stylish visuals.
Directed by Mart Sander
I was rather curious to see how a movie titled Eerie Fairy Tales would fit into a celebration of Cosmic Horror. Though there have been some fine fairy tale themed horror films like The Company of Wolves and Tale of Tales, fantasy would appear to have been an odd fit for a festival like this. Summoning Azathoth may be grim, but not exactly Grimm. As it turns out, this may have been my favorite feature of the whole festival, and at least one of them could clearly be proclaimed to be Lovecraftian. Only one of the tales, “The Spring of Solitude”, truly felt like a fairy tale, but each of the stories could have opened with the classic opener “Once upon a time…”
The four films each were taken from different periods, that assembled Mart Sander’s internationally acclaimed short films into a single compilation. In a word, each of these films is Elegant. They ooze with style and grace, and the flow of them rolls out like butter, and the stories grab you and let you in really easily.
There is a shadowy narrator, who reveals his persona at the end, but there isn’t really a wraparound of connective tissue here.
It was a dark and stormy night, on Friday the 13th, no less, in this 1930’s noir piece full of shadow and thunder. A lovely and mysterious woman (Jekaterina Novosjolova) enters a lonely inn, where the innkeeper (Toomas Kolk) is by himself, tending bar. She claims to have hit an animal on the road, and her car is on the side of the road. The bartender informs her that she has hit a werewolf, not some ordinary animal. And, that the inn resides on top of a graveyard filled with the bodies of vanquished folkloric creatures. It’s a charm offensive by way of spooky tales.
The woman is shocked by his stories, and readies herself to leave, but he reels her back in with assurances of safety. The two flirt, and it’s great dialogue that is a tug of wills, and is particularly clever upon a second watch. Unbeknownst to him, she is a femme fatale in more ways than just the way she’s dressed, and has a history with the inn that is far scarier than the ghost stories he’s been spinning to her. It just might spell doom for the young man.
Here is the Cosmic Horror piece! Hidden in a bunker since WWII is a mysterious presence that is so disturbing that people who go in to the structure want to have their minds wiped of the horror they have witnessed. Two Interpol agents (Tanel Saar and Mart Müürisepp) have gone inside to file a report and discover what mysteries lie within the bunker.
Anticipation is the key to this story. The story builds up the hype, as the investigators travel down into the depths in a freight elevator as the science officer custodian of the facility (Märt Koik) explains that all who have gone in before have gone mad with grief. The younger investigator starts to get cold feet, but the senior inspector bolsters his younger colleague, but neither of them are truly ready for what awaits. The alien is siphoning emotions to fuel its spacecraft, and floods the minds of those who see it with torment and woe. It was attracted to Earth in WWII for all the suffering and trauma of the time, and it needs just a bit more emotional juice to free itself from its bunker containment, which would spell DOOM for the planet.
“The Spring of Solitude”
Love can be a trap. This is the theme of the centerpiece of the anthology, and is the source of the namesake for this collection. It is a classic fairy tale, with a hint of time travel cosmic underpinnings.
It is 1840, and a struggling family farm mourns the disappearance of the eldest son, who is off at war. Three generations of the family are going hungry, and the mother of the family (Heli Vahing) laments that her youngest boy, Hans (Ott Salla), has not done enough for the family in his older brother’s absence.
Looking to acquit himself for his mother, Hans goes out to prove himself after being shamed by his mother, recklessly charges into the woods to go hunt game, where he stumbles into a mysterious glade with a beautiful woman (Lisette Pomerants) waiting by the spring. He is entranced by the beautiful woman, and he thirsts for the spring water, and she grants him the water, if he lays with her for three nights in a row. Hans is enchanted, literally and figuratively, and agrees. She is a nixie, a fey spirit of the woods, and this is her witching well, so there are some serious strings attached to her proposal. His one night was a year. Then ten years. And each time he returns, his family dwindles in from time and grief. His What would a third night possibly do? The story is punctuated with a classic Grimm fairy tale ending.
“The Butler Did It”
In 1920’s London, two catty aristocrats, Milady (Kadri Rämmeld) and His Lordship (Mart Sander) have gotten away with murder and are gleefully boasting about their exploits with each other over a fine meal at home. They set up the butler, but not their current butler, Jenkins (Vahur-Paul Põldma). In order to be sneaky about their exploits, they switch from English to French. But Jenkins clearly has been listening in, and switches to French himself, and clueing in that he’s aware ( suggesting poisson (fish) for the next course, echoing poison, their weapon of choice.)
They switch from French to German, From German to Italian, from Italian to Russian, Swedish, Spanish, Hungarian and finally Estonian (naturally). Each time, the Butler matches their language foiling their subterfuge. But for all their sophistication, they are bested by their Butler at each turn. It’s a wonderfully cheeky showcase allowing the actors to break out all their linguistic chops.
It was fun to see the director, Sander, so obviously enjoying his role as the nefarious but completely oblivious mastermind as His Lordship. When watching the film the first time through, I thought there was something Kenneth Branagh about this character, and then I found out that this was the director in the role, and it all seems wonderfully apropos.
The anthology felt like a wonderful four course meal. The appetizer “Actually” set the mood. The two main courses “Abeyance” and “The Spring of Solitude” provide satisfying story nourishment. And “The Butler Did It” is a fun cleansing dessert to finish it off.
Eerie Fairy Tales would be rated PG-13. There’s no real gore, and nary a jump scare, but it is saturated with a mood of dread, and occasion doom. It is an absolute breeze to watch, and it excites me to know that Estonia has a wonderful talent in Sander to embrace. I really hope he gets a chance to do a feature film, as each of these shorts are powerful stand alone stories.
This film was featured in the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, and for me was the highlight of the whole event. This film has not gotten a US distribution yet, and is still working through the festival circuit. Highly recommended pick up when a distributor is smart enough to pick this film up for streaming release. (C’mon IFC Midnight!) The only real criticism I have for these films is that when digital animation is used, it’s pretty obvious. Thankfully, it’s not needed much, and it never gets to the point of being distracting.
Here is the trailer, but unless you speak Estonian, you’ll just have to watch the visuals. Don’t worry though, the film has English Subtitles.