Color, 2010, 110m.
Directed by Michael Steiner
Starring Roxane Mesquida, Nicholas Ofczarek, Andrea Zogg, Carlos Leal, Joel Basman
Constantin (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany R0 HD/PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9) / DTS-HD 5.1
Prominently billed as the first real Swiss horror film (which could be disputed), Sennentuntschi made the English-speaking festival rounds with the additional title of Curse of the Alps, offering a potent blend of Hammer-influenced village atmosphere, possibly supernatural gothic thrills, a few dashes of grisly violence, and an offbeat '70s setting. Whether it really qualifies as Switzerland's official inauguration into the 21st century European horror sweepstakes remains to be seen, but it certainly deserves a wider international audience than it has found so far.
In the modern day framing device that plays like a combination of macabre fairy tale and police procedural, a young child exploring in the mountains during a family trip is lured by a boy flashing a mirror in the trees to a secluded spot, only to discover a skeletal hand protruding from the soil. The police deduce from the tiny eyewitness' testimony that it's the body of Albert (Basman), a 15-year-old boy who vanished back in the mid-1970s under mysterious circumstances. Flash back a few decades to the main story, or in this case, two parallel stories happening almost at the same time (but not quite).
A quiet Alpine village is thrown into upheaval when the local priest turns up swinging from a noose in his church, and soon after a mute, disheveled young woman (Mesquida) stumbles into town. Dedicated cop Sebastian (Ofczarek) jumps to her defense when the locals accuse her of some connection to the priest's death, attempting to allay their fears that she might have come from nearby Mt. Thistle where Albert and his father, Erwin (Zogg), are staying. Sebastian goes to check up on them but finds nothing immediately suspicious; instead he returns to find the girl in greater peril when she recoils at the brandishing of a cross, prompting accusations that she's a vessel of the devil. Interspersed is the story of Erwin and Albert, who take in a new farm hand fresh off the bus, city guy Martin (Leal). During a drunken evening they invoke the story of the sennentuntschi, a woman concocted by the devil when country men wish for their makeshift female companion made of a broom and straw to become real. She's used as their sexual servant but gets her revenge by murdering and mutilating them, then stitching their bodies full of straw. Since we've seen that activity already depicted in the opening credits, it's only a matter of time before things get very nasty indeed...
The setting is the real star here, of course, with the gorgeous Alps creating a unique backdrop for horrific deeds and time-twisting narrative manipulation. This also enhances the folklore ambience of the story which actually fuses well with the '70s time period, including brief but effective touches like Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot's "Ford Mustang" and a little T. Rex on the soundtrack. All of the actors are excellent with Masquida handling a challenging, dialogue-free role very well and the always reliable Leal creating a unique character whose gradually revealed motivations turn his portion of the story in a very unusual direction. Trickier is the film's sexual violence, which is definitely essential to the plot and absolutely not played for cheap thrills (not depicted in anything like a leering or exploitative fashion). However, the final twist in the story adds an uncomfortable perspective on this element; more won't be spoiled here, but it walks a tricky line between subversion and misogyny and could fall into the latter camp for some viewers. Apart from the dubious final minutes, however, it's a refreshingly different, haunting film well worth discovering.
Despite the lack of any video release whatsoever in most territories (though an American release has been announced, albeit with troubling specs about its aspect ratio), the German region-free release from Constantin looks terrific and comes with optional English subtitles. The Blu-ray release is obviously preferable given the crisp clarity of the landscape shots, and it's very pleasing all around with spacious DTS-HD 5.1 mixes in both the original Swiss German audio mix and a somewhat modified, redubbed track for general German audiences. The chief extra is a 14-minute featurette combining interview and behind the scenes footage, and be warned, it's crammed with spoilers. Most of the cast appear chatting in a variety of languages (including some in English), and it's very easy to follow even when you aren't quite sure what they're saying. Also included is a gallery of location shots and a batch of trailers for other Constantin releases, though none for the main feature itself.
Reviewed on October 27, 2013.