REPRESSION (a.k.a. Marionette) *** Netherlands / Luxembourg / UK 2020 Dir: Elbert van Strien. 112 mins
Start with generous portions of raw “Evil children controlling the adults as Billy Mumy did in THE TWILIGHT ZONE episode IT’S A GOOD LIFE. Then you add a dash of FIGHT CLUB (1999), a sprinkle of outdoor Gothic Thriller of your choice with rain, and lovely villages, simmer for 112 minutes over a slow heat, attempt to bring to boil and you get REPRESSION a.k.a Marionette (2020). Serves as many as you want, with heat-dissipating satisfaction.
The picture or this recipe starts off with a fellow that we learn later was a therapist, pouring gasoline over himself then lighting himself on fire in a bell tower of a Scottish town. The Doctor who is Dr. McVittie (Peter Mullan) will return later as a burn victim bent on his own self-destruction.
Move to Therapist Dr. Marianne Winter (Thekla Reuten) hopes to escape her own traumatic past in upstate New York by taking up a position treating troubled children in a remote Scottish town. Winter gets asked the appropriate question from a staff member as to why she gave up her lucrative position to move to a Scottish village. The reply is that she likes the rain with an uneasy smile. Her new consulting room offers no sanctuary from her memories, with its dark paneling, odd Staff that seems to be hiding something. The first indication for me was the audience had no clue what those memories are. Perhaps I missed something in viewing.
Dr. Winter is soon unsettled by a 10-year-old patient (Elijah Wolf), who claims he can control her actions with his thoughts. Manny likes to draw with dark pencil and paper all sorts of horrible images that somehow come true. From figures falling to burning to drown, each little pencil drawing happens in the story. The drawback for me is now the story has been split into two narratives one of the evil children and the other about Winter’s memories that unfold in a series of flashbacks. You toss a romantic subplot and some pedantic dime shop philosophizing on the existence of God by a Book club in a Pub for no reason at all. This all leads to a revelation revolving around an almost MATRIX-like transcendental soup that does not go down well.
Director Van Strien who co-wrote the script Ben Hopkins whose previous credit deals more with political thrillers has assembled some good ingredients from the supporting cast. Peter Mullan plays Marianne’s troubled predecessor, Rebecca Front as a hinting colleague, and Bill Paterson as the practice’s befuddled team leader. Elijah Wolf has a good turn as the blonde curly-haired Manny who controls all. Reuten who plays the pivotal role of Dr. Winter try hard to find some on-screen charisma with Wolf, yet misses the mark. There are some genuinely horrifying moments not of actual horror but for urban violence in a kidnap moment between Winter and Manny ending in a gunshot.
To be fair this film was based on a short film however with that being a point, the story seems bloated and padded. REPRESSION a.k.a Marionette (2020) is a would-be political thriller with elements of the evil child genre. The problem is that it serves neither genre will. Brilliantly shot at times with great vistas, gloomy boats, warm fires, storms, and musically scored well, the picture tries to tell too much. There is a good 90-minute film in this picture. The trouble is the old saying “It’s not over till it’s over” pretty much applies.
Review by Terry Sherwood