RiverRun 2019: The Rusalka

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Dir. Perry Blackshear, USA, 2018, 79 min.

This quiet thriller by North Carolina native Perry Blackshear, the director of the 2015 psychological thriller They Look Like People, depicts a modern retelling of the Rusalka, a Slavic folktale female creature who haunts the waterways in which she drowned.

The film, which lasts just 79 minutes, sees the return of the three main actors from Blackshear’s previous filmas they depict new characters in this dark fairytale: a man searching for his husband who went missing in a lake, a mysterious woman who seems confined to that lake, and a naïve, mute man who is staying in a house on the shore of the body of water.

Relying heavily on sound design, emphasized in particular due to the limited amount of dialogue in the film, The Rusalka tows the line between dread and beauty. While the silhouettes and imagery created by the siren, played by Margaret Ying Drake, are often terrifying, every other shot in the film resembles a Baroque painting, with the lighting illuminating her in dramatic effect. A hauntingly beautiful Croatian song plays during several moments in the film, creating a melancholic backdrop for the developing forbidden love between the mute man and the trapped woman. Other sounds like the lapping of water and the creaking of bones and wood create chilling moments, only to be abruptly offset by luminous imagery from the characters’ past and possible futures. Though slow and seemingly disjointed at times, this sophomore film breaks the traditional boundaries of being just a horror film by beautifully capturing both the quiet and profound moments of love, longing and grief, all while keeping viewers on the edge.

The Rusalka screens in Winston-Salem on April 11 at 8 p.m. at SECCA and April 12 at 8:30 p.m. at UNCSA Babcock.

— SM

You may also enjoy these Riverrun 2019 reviews:

Freaks: This thriller follows the struggle of a multi-generational family as they fight for their lives in what seems to be a post-apocalyptic world.

The Ostrich Politic’: This animated short serves up uncomfortable questions of compliance, the truth, and accountability by showing the not-so-unfamiliar lives of ostriches who live in a society grounded through ignorance.

Find the full list of reviews here.