Eye For Film >> Movies >> Leshy (2015) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
One of the joys of folklore and fairy tales is their universality. We may not be on first-name terms with a specific otherworldly cast of characters, but we've met their kin before in our own childhood tales of monsters that live in the woods. One such creature in Slavic folklore is Leshy - a shape-shifting guardian of the forest, who also has something of a reputation for stealing away young girls.
Pavel Soukup's dark and atmospheric tale imagines a forest in the present day Czech Republic, where gamekeeper Karel (Marek Pospíchal) lives with his daughter Anna (Vladimíra Havlícková), marked out as a true child of fairy tales by her cascading shower of red hair. Anna likes folk stories, too, reciting poems about the way the woods protect themselves from sinister influences. But despite the idyllic setting, something is not quite right. First of all, the family dog has gone missing and secondly, there are poachers stalking the woods - but are they the only ones looking for prey?
Soukup keeps his set-up economical, letting a hint of darkness permeate from the earliest scenes, where Karel is seen mounting a skull onto a presentation board. Outside the house, there is a watchfulness to the camera, often spying on characters from some distance away or simply capturing the dark silence of the wood and leaving our imaginations to consider what might be in there. The Leshy - listed under the Czech equivalent name Hejkal in the cast - is only glimpsed at first, a distant shape with enormous antlers that looks just 'wrong' enough not to be a stag.
When Karel finds something a lot more troubling than the poachers on the forest floor, he sets out looking for what's in the woods, unaware that his daughter is striking up an altogether different relationship with the creature. The tale is, like all good folk stories, familiar, but Soukup fills it with unsettling detail, employing judicious use of jump scares and silence, so that the stillness inspires thoughts not of nature's calmness, but of an animal frozen in fear before flight.
The cinematography from Václav Tlapák is impressive, making lovely use of the trees and of shadows within the house at night, as the lace of a curtain casts a veil-like shadow across Anna, while she scours the outside looking for her new-found friend. Czech fairy stories end, not "happily ever after" but often "...and if they have not died yet, they still live there today". For the Leshy, death may not even be the end.Reviewed on: 30 Oct 2016
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