Color, 2013, 89 mins. 25 secs.
Directed by Richard Stanley Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Anyone familiar with the work and personality of filmmaker Richard Stanley (Hardware) shouldn't be too surprised to see vein of mystical and esoteric curiosity and experimentation running through all of it, from the dark and light shaman aspects of Dust Devil to the nature rituals he conducted during the doomed making of his version of The Island of Dr. Moreau. In the interim he's also made documentaries of varying lengths like The Secret Glory and The White Darkness, and with The Otherworld, he finds an ambitious way of merging that doc sensibility with something almost cinematically indescribable.
Stanley himself serves as a sort of sparing narrator/guide, along with travel mate Scarlett Amaris, through what he terms off the bat as the strangest thing that ever happened to him -- which he doesn't expect anyone to believe, but he wants to preserve it for posterity. Occultism, geographic anomalies, mysterious churches, ancient mystical history, and initiation rites are among the elements found in an area of southern France in and around Montségur, Rennes-le-Château, and Bugarach, regions known in pop culture for everything from The Da Vinci Code to Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate. Various locals (including a colorful one named Uranie), journalists, and other authorities share tales about the area, involving everything from a haunted mirror to hidden treasure. Even Francois Miterrand(!) ties into this with a surreal anecdote about the 1981 presidential campaign. (Even Lucio Fulci figures into this, in an indirect way.) From there we get into suppressed Christian history, UFOs, anagrams, and plenty more before the truly creepy final passage.
An out-there experience par excellence, The Otherworld is pure unfiltered Stanley with gorgeous cinematography (courtesy of Subconscious Cruelty's Karim Hussein) and a mostly ambient score by regular composer Simon Boswell creating a hypnotic, unsettling mood throughout. Whether one believes a word of it is beside the point in the end as it feels like the film is more about creating a sensitivity and awareness to the inexplicable and sometimes beautiful mysteries of the hidden corners of the world, with several humorous moments peppered throughout (like a slightly irate mayor explaining his area's visitation policy or Stanley's thoughts on preparing for 13th-century medieval dentistry). Not surprisingly, some portions feel close to a horror film given Stanley's labeling of the area as "the Zone" and a few settings that could have stepped right out of Zeder.
Severin Films brings this French-backed production to Blu-ray and DVD, with the former preferable as it's a two-disc set (for the first 2,500 units) with a bonus DVD containing the Stanley docs Voice of the Moon, The White Darkness, and The Secret Glory; the last is most relevant as focuses on the same region with its dark past involving Nazis hunting down the Holy Grail. The others have a mystical bent as well, exploring the religions and cultural beliefs in Afghanistan and Haiti. All feature optional Stanley commentary and intros as well, making this a step up from their earlier release as extras on the three-disc Subversive DVD set of Dust Devil (which had different commentaries).
As for the feature itself, it looks terrific, of course, with excellent detail and vibrant colors. This also represents an updated, slightly longer cut of the film compared to the much-derided digital version released on a handful of platforms earlier, which featured major subtitle issues. Here the optional subtitles (either for the French-language portions or for the entire film) are perfect and nicely timed. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 tracks both sound excellent, but don't expect a ton of surround activity since the film is mostly dialogue and music spread out to the front and center channels. Extras for the main disc include the trailer, a pair of deleted scenes (featuring a married couple with an artistic tie to "the divine" and an additional anecdote from Scarlett), and "The Other Side of the Mirror," a 33-minute making-of featurette including a very amusing look at Uranie's DVD collection, a look inside the "Grotto of Death," and a very entertaining revelation about how they achieved some of those remarkable aerial shots.