leave | alex herron | thomas moldestad | alicia von rittberg | herman tommeraas | stig r. amdam | ghost | haunted | drama | mystery | thriller | religion | norway | ellen dorrit petersen | morten holst | gry m. dahl | christine donlon | alicia m. eidesund | peter forde | modern gothic
Director: Alex Herron
Writer: Thomas Moldestad
Starring: Alicia von Rittberg, Herman Tømmeraas and Stig R. Amdam
This is a movie that I decided on when looking for a 2023 release in horror for Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie podcast. There was one in the theater but at times that I couldn’t make work so this was selected. I’ll be honest, I came in not knowing much aside from the genre and that it fit. I did read a bit of the synopsis ahead of watching.
Synopsis: a young woman tries to find her origins after having been abandoned at a cemetery wrapped in a cloth with satanic symbols, but as she gets closer to answers, a malevolent spirit is telling her to leave.
We start this off with the beginning of the synopsis. There is a 911 call and the police come to this cemetery. They find a baby wrapped in the cloth. It then shifts to our present day as this baby has grown up to be Hunter White (Alicia von Rittberg). She was adopted by Raylan (Clarence Smith). His wife has passed away so it is just them. There are also two boys, but they’re older, having moved away to start their own families.
Hunter is curious about her past. She is supposed to be heading off to Georgetown to start school, but instead she goes to Norway to find out about her biological parents. She has papers and the article from the newspaper about her being found. She gets her wires crossed and it takes finagling to get into a room. There is also a presence following her. It sets her on the path to what she is looking for.
This leads her to Cecilia (Ellen Dorrit Petersen). She is the lead singer of a band and it seems like back in the day, she was in a metal group. She isn’t Hunter’s mother. Her father was Kristian (Morten Holst) who was in the band and he was dating Anna. She became pregnant and that’s where it takes a dark turn. Anna left the baby and this upset Kristian. He supposedly burned her alive inside of a church. This man then checked himself in a mental hospital. Hunter visits him, but it doesn’t net any more information than she had prior.
It is through Cecilia that she learns more about her family. They are wealthy and highly religious. She is directed to where they live. This leads her to Lillian Norheim (Ragnhild Gudbrandsen). She would be her aunt. It is from here she meets her uncle, Olav (Gerald Pettersen), their son and her cousin of Stian (Herman Tømmeraas). She also gets to meet her grandfather, Torstein (Stig R. Amdam). He’s happy she sought them out but is also stern.
When she asks questions about her mother, things get shut down. Hunter asks about her diary and Torstein won’t hear anything of it. Stian wants to help, but in his own way. There is a dark secret to this family and this entity that is following Hunter might not be what she thinks it is.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that having now watched this and reflecting on it, this feels like a modern gothic film that is set in Norway. If you’d tell me that this is based on a Bronte sisters’ story, I wouldn’t be shocked. What I’m getting at here is that the ghosts or entities that are haunting Hunter might not be evil and that people could be harboring darkness. In today’s world of art, this tends to go against norms. That is something I can appreciate.
Now that I’ve said that I like the basic story that we get here. Hunter is adopted and her being found is an odd circumstance. I’m not sure if this is established or not as to how she originally learns about where and how she was found as a baby. That would make me wonder what the heck as well. She was found in a cemetery and she was wrapped in cloth with Satanic symbols on it. There isn’t much to go on, outside of a box that her father has in the attic. She does a DNA test that leads her to Norway. When she arrives there, she doesn’t know what her next move is and I like that this entity nudges her. It works in the framework of the story.
Where I’ll then shift is that her father was in a Norwegian death metal band. I love this idea since they were thought to be anti-Christian and Satanists. That would explain why she was found in the blanket. What is interesting is that she was found wearing an upside cross. She assumes that it goes with the symbols. The more she learns about her culture, the more she becomes familiar with Norse mythology. This is an icon important to these pagan beliefs. That was good to break the pre-conceived notion. Then getting to know Cecilia and Kristian, just because they were in this band, didn’t make them evil. There is the idea though that Christians and those with strict beliefs are the true villains. Where I like this, I also think that it is getting overplayed as well.
There is one last bit here that I want to get into. The more that Hunter learns of her family, she discovers a history where the women in this family go crazy. This happened to a few before her. I was then wondering if she was going crazy with this entity that she was seeing. How this is used works, once again going back to the gothic elements. There was a reveal here that I didn’t necessarily love. I won’t spoil what it is. What I will say is that this explores toxic masculinity through Torstein and Stian. That I appreciated.
I’m then going to shift to filmmaking. I think that this is well-made. We do good things with the cinematography. Tension is built from the fact that Hunter’s father doesn’t know where she is. If anything happens to her, she is lost forever. There is an interesting parallel to her being dropped off in the cemetery to her position as an adult. What I have a problem with is that outside of that, this struggles to build tension and fully keep my interest. I like what it explores and where it goes, but I wanted a bit more to be invested. The effects we get are also solid. They don’t use a lot and I’m glad they didn’t go heavy CGI there. This is less of a ghostly than what I expected early on so I appreciate that. I’d say a tamer version of Crimson Peak in the fact that we don’t see ghosts nearly as much here. Other than that, the soundtrack fit what was needed.
All that is left then is the acting. I thought that von Rittberg was a solid lead. She has a charm about her and I’m curious to see where she goes. I also don’t want to see bad things happen to her so that works. Tømmeraas on the other hand is a jerk and I disliked him from the beginning. There is an arrogance about him that comes from what I’m guessing is being ‘old money’. He feels slighted about everything. Amdam was fitting an older version who has more of a standing. He is imposing with his screen presence. I’d then say that Petersen, Holst, Gudbrandsen, Smith, Maria Alm Norell, Pettersen and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
In conclusion, this is a movie that has interesting elements to it. I’m not sure if it sticks the landing in execution though. We get a modern gothic story. We have Hunter who was abandoned as a baby looking for her family. There is a supernatural presence guiding her. It might be evil and it might not. It explores humanity and how outward appearance can hide beliefs that we have inside. This is acted well. The filmmaking are also solid. The problem is just that it doesn’t keep me invested until the end. Not a bad one to check out, but I wouldn’t rush to see this unfortunately.
My Rating: 6 out of 10