An outsider with unusual gifts descends on a small community in Ali Abbasi’s creepy exploration of cultural ‘otherness’
“Who am I?” It’s a question lurking in the mind of customs officer Tina (Eva Melander). She has always assumed that “different” means “worse”, but when she encounters the creepily magnetic Vore (Eero Milonoff), who shares with her the unusual gift of being able to smell emotions, particularly fear and guilt, she learns the truth about herself. And that’s as much as you should know about the plot of this earthy fairytale from Ali Abbasi, based on a short story by Let the Right One In author John Ajvide Lindqvist. This is a film that unfolds and thrives in the gloaming half light of mystery, its rewards decreasing exponentially the more you know what to expect.
Abbasi, Iranian by birth and now resident in Sweden, mines the otherness of being an outsider in a closed community. But there’s an otherworldly poetry to the imagery here that takes this oddly affecting film beyond an allegory for cultural difference and oppression. The forest floor colour palette is all lichens and loam; the pacing has a sinister creep, like some kind of ominous fungal growth. And the performances are oddly tender. Melander gives her character an immutable physical solidity that contradicts an initial diffidence; her mild-mannered, pastel-coloured wardrobe sits uneasily on her.
While the film defies neat genre classification, it has elements of physical horror – like a mating between the mind of David Cronenberg and something that crawled out of a compost heap.