From the atmospheric lighting that drips in primary colours to the spooky setting of a gothic castle in ruins, the retro aesthetics of Kevin Kopacka’s second feature pay tribute to the twisted pleasures of 1960s and 1970s European horror movies: giallo, fantastique, and the like. Ruled by emotional as well as physical dysfunction, this film opens with an ill-fated car trip taken by an overbearing husband and his reticent wife to an abandoned country estate which the latter has inherited.
The dilapidated condition of the isolated location eerily mirrors the deteriorating mental states of the characters. Even if the plotting is intended as pastiche, the visuals maintain an impressive balance between homage and distinctiveness. Nevertheless, just when viewers might think they know what’s coming, the film suddenly lifts the curtain on its own smoke and mirrors, like a magician revealing his tricks. Without giving too much away, the unexpected rupturing of make-believe finds the narrative splintering in numerous directions, ultimately painting a fragmented portrait of toxic love.
If the first half is a faithful callback to the golden days of Euro horror, the later stages attempt to subvert the problematic gender dynamic that often exists in these cult classics – resulting in the film being burdened with an overly ambitious baggage of ideas. As the intricate set pieces grow more abandoned – a shot of writhing bodies interlocked in an orgy is particularly memorable – the script turns rather disjointed, if not nonsensical. Not that it may matter: it’s the sensuality of the images in, for example, a Jean Rollin film that lingers on, rather than the details of the story. Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes will be an acquired taste, but for fans of the genre, it has the potential of becoming a cult favourite.
• Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes is released on 2 December in cinemas.