Psalm 21 DVD Review
Written and Directed by Fredrik Hiller
2009, Region 2 (PAL), 114 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 30th May 2011
Jonas Malmsjö as Henrik Horneus
Niklas Falk as Ivar Lidman
Björn Bengtsson as Olle Lidman
Görel Crona as Ajna Lidman
Josefin Ljungman as Nora Lidman
Per Ragnar as Gabriel Horneus
Gunvor Pontén as Elsie
I must admit to being completely ignorant of Scandinavian horror, having let Sweden's Let the Right One In and Frostbiten, as well as Finland's Rare Exports, pass me by despite their critical acclaim. So when Fredrik Hiller's Psalm 21 landed on my pile I decided to take the deer by the antlers and experience some home-grown Swedish horror.
Henrik Horneus (Jonas Malmsjö) is a young priest whose religious stance is all about the good things. Fire, brimstone and demons brandishing red hot pokers don't figure in his sermons as he falls in line with the Swedish church's abolition of the concept of hell. It's never been a better time to be a church-goer as God is all about forgiveness in these modern times. Get out there and rack up those sins because they will be forgiven. God absolves all, baby!
Henrik's life outside of the church isn't so rosy; estranged from his wife and having trouble communicating with his son, it's all rather grim. And it takes a turn for the worse when Henrik takes a call telling him his father Gabriel (Per Ragnar, Let the Right One In) has died in the remote village where he was the local priest.
Heading off to make the funeral arrangements, Henrik's car breaks down a few miles from the village of Gabriel's congregation and seeks refuge with the Lidman family. It's there he meets their son, Otto, a previous apprentice of Gabriel who fills Henrik in on his father's methods of teaching the word of the bible.
Henrik also starts to be plagued by visions of demons and the dead from his recent and long-distant past. It all leads him to believe that all is not quite right in the small community.
Psalm 21 borrows heavily from Japanese ghost stories in the setup of the scares, but they are no less effective. Achieved with great-looking CGI, the visitations and visions that Henrik suffers are all skin-crawlingly spooky. The only criticism that can be levelled is that it’s basically the same gag repeated in multiple locations. It makes for a tense and creepy first half of the film, but it does start to wear after a while.
Speaking of the first half, this is where all the good stuff lies. It makes for a rather less than satisfactory ending, but the story manages to hold it together despite becoming very preachy (no pun intended) about its message. Clearly writer and director Fredrik Hiller has some issues with the church and these come to the forefront of the story as the film comes to a close.
Jonas Malmsjö in the lead role plays a fantastic part and without his performance the film could have suffered immensely. His character treads a tightrope between absolute conviction in his faith and – through seeing it rattled by his visitations – being plunged into insanity. He could quite easily have carried the role as ‘action-priest’, being all square-jawed and muscular, but thankfully Hiller chose not to take the story down this route.
So, if you want a film that is equal parts stylish and scary you could do a lot worse than check out Psalm 21. It could do with a bit more concentration on the scares and a bit less stuffing of its message down your throat, but overall it delivers where it counts.
Video and Audio:
Picture is crystal clear and shows no signs of any problems. There is the, now fully expected, choice of 2.0 or 5.1 surround sound. Not much for the surround to do for the majority of the film, but when it's used it performs well.
One solitary feature on the visual effects, running about five minutes. Nothing to see here, move along.
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