Nymph Movie Review
Written by Miloš Jovanović
Directed by Milan Todorovic
Written by Milan Konjevic and Barry Keating, story by Marko Backovic
2014, 90 minutes, Not rated
Kristina Klebe as Kelly
Natalie Burn as Lucy
Dragan Micanovic as Boban
Slobodan Stefanovic as Alex
Sofija Rajovic as Yasmin
Franco Nero as Niko
Kelly and Lucy are two American girls vacationing in Montenegro. While there, they meet an old college acquaintance Alex, who is now happily engaged to Yasmin, much to both of their dismay. Along the way, they also meet Boban, Yasmin's childhood friend, a gregarious character who's always up for adventure.
Boban suggests they all go and check out Mamula, an uninhabited island just off the coast. Ignoring the warnings of an old fisherman, the gang heads off for a field trip, little knowing that the island is not all that uninhabited after all. It turns out that the ancient island fort and its submarine pens are now home to a murderous man-eating mermaid and her equally vile crony. And it just happens she's rather hungry right now...
When Milan Todorovic and Milan Konjevic kickstarted the new wave of Serbian genre film in 2009 with Zone of the Dead, Serbia's first (and, well, last so far) foray into zombie horror territory, we spoke of a new dawn bringing light to a somewhat stale state of Serbian cinema. Since then, the efforts have been few and far between – A Serbian Film, The Life and Death of a Porno Gang and The Enemy being the most notable – but other than several DIY efforts (such as, say, Naprata) the dawn we announced turned out to be but a flicker. Lack of real commercial success shelved further advancement on this front, and Balkan horror-mongers were again left with the usual practice of chasing foreign titles for their perusal.
But the movie business is a funny game at times. After a period of nothingness, the tide seems to be turning again this year - Todorovic and Konjevic, now splitting duties as director and screenwriter respectively, have re-teamed to bring us Nymph (aka Mamula, aka Killer Mermaid, which will be the US title), an interesting little film which blends Greek mythology, Montenegrin coastline, Serbian and international actors and one Franco Nero into a rather intriguing mix... and, would you believe it, it works more than it does not.
The plotline that drives Nymph is a rather pedestrian one. If you discard the fact that the main antagonist is a mermaid, the other elements are your basic "group of overly adventurous characters stumbles into a hornet's nest" kind of thing. Zone of the Dead went with a similar premise, but the crew assembled for Nymph is far less motley. Todorovic retained the services of Zone alumnus Kristina Klebe, who in turn delivers a far better performance than in the first film. While five years ago she laboured in her role of a federal agent and at times looked downright clumsy, especially during dramatic parts, the thirty-five year old native New Yorker looks much more at ease as a tourist in distress. Her lines come off more naturally and the talky parts in the first half an hour of the film do not grate on the viewer.
Klebe is flanked by former Bolshoi Theatre ballet dancer turned actress Natalie Burn (recently seen in Expendables 3) and veteran Serbian actor Dragan Micanovic (the English-speaking crowds might recognize him from Guy Ritchie's RocknRolla and Matthew Vaughn's Layer Cake), who together round off the more dominant trio of the lead ensemble. Burn's presence is more than just eye candy – the Ukraine native is quite a looker in her own right, but her acting is above the usual genre fodder, with added note that her better bits come in the non-horror parts.
The two main antagonists in the film are the titular creature (played in her human form by first-timer Zorana Kostic Obradovic) and her unnamed henchman-cum-protégé (another Zone holdover Miki Krstovic). This mermaid, we learn, is nothing like Ariel – she preys on men who are seduced by her singing and end up on her dinner table. Kostic Obradovic looks malevolently seductive in her mermaid guise, with a rather menacing-yet-tender glare. The nymph does not speak save for the odd loud moan, but her eyes tell all the story you need to know.
All of the above would normally be enough for a decent genre effort, but not for Todorovic, who somehow coaxed Franco Nero to join the cast and add some starpower sheen. The blue-eyed Italian veteran is best known in film history as the first-ever Django to grace the silver screen. Nero, who is now well into his seventies, has aged gracefully enough to be successful in both segments. He completely looks the part of a grizzled old Montenegrin fisherman, and, when called upon, he can kick some scaled butt as well.
Actors aside, potentially the strongest card in Nymph's deck is the striking visuals. Despite being shot in remarkable sixteen shooting days on a minuscule budget, Nymph looks like a million bucks. Stunning Montenegrin scenery is magnificently captured by the camera lens of cinematographer Dimitrije Jokovic, and Todorovic shows bigger skill in his sophomore feature, utilizing the landscape perfectly in a series of great shots and making it, basically, one of the characters. The island itself provides a perfect backdrop for this kind of film, especially when one considers its grim history. As Nero's character explains us early on, Mamula indeed was a World War 2 era concentration camp, run by the Italian fascists.
Nymph, of course, has its share of flaws, just like any horror film of this ilk. For starters, the horror tag is somehow unjustly tacked on here. There are not many jump scares and not nearly enough grisly murders either. Nymph would be, thus, more accurately described as a "dark fantasy" – which, of course, is not much of a knock on it, just a cosmetic reassessment. The more pressing problems present themselves in the script. Konjevic and Keating use a full third of the film setting up a back story which involves a romantic rectangle of some sorts, which is not bad per se, until you figure out that the whole development goes nowhere once they hit Mamula. Neil Marshall's The Descent, for example, managed to weave the intricacies of intra-character relationships into the action part of the film, a feat not replicated by Nymph. This turn of events leaves the Rajovic and Stefanovic characters a total throwaway, as they are both left unsolved dramatically, and offed early in the running time.
Overall, Nymph is a pleasant viewing experience. The acting and the visuals are far better than almost anything in this financial bracket, and it will be hard to watch another backyard Romero hack it about once aware that something like this can be accomplished with so little. It is also a steady step forward for Todorovic, who has visibly improved from his zombie debut and is now seemingly set to return to the realm of the undead, as his next feature should be a Zone sequel with Ken Foree returning. Considering Nymph's so far successful tour of the festival circuit (the movie was warmly received both nationally and internationally), we might not be forced to wait another five years.