Nightsiren, playing at Fantastic Fest ’22, is a folk horror gem surrounding a young woman’s return to a small village she fled as a child. Directed by Teresa Nvotová and written by Nvotová and Barbora Namerova, Nightsiren is another slow-burn style, filled with analysis of patriarchal oppression. Filled with atmospheric suspense and tense acting, Nightsiren keeps you on your toes, unsure of its final destination.
Šarlota (Charlotte, played by Natalia Germani) returns to the mountain village as a young woman, summoned by the mayor for inheritance proceedings after her mother’s death. A prologue before the first chapter shows Šarlota mumbling words like “ugly bitch” while she hides under from her mom. Her mom yanks her out, and she runs, her sister Tamara following her. When Šarlota turns to shoo her sister away, she accidentally shoves Tamara off a cliff. In shock, she takes off. Presumably, she fled to the city and never returned until now.
Village Is Stepford-Like
Since her mother’s cabin burned down, Šarlota stays at witch Otilia’s (Iva Bittová) empty place. As she gets to know others in the town, including Mira (Eva Mores), superstition, fear, lust, and jealousy start to spiral out of control as the men and oppressed women seek a scapegoat. After all, they thought Šarlota died, and the townsfolk blamed Otilia. While the tension builds, Šarlota gains confidence and strength as she tries to unravel the past. Not easy given the townsfolk’s reticence to talk about the past.
Throughout the film, we see flashbacks of Otilia and what happened after Šarlota’s sister, Tamara, fell off the cliff. The final chapter crescendos, and you seesaw between sympathy for the women in the village conditioned to accept abuse and anger at how they betray other women. For patriarchy, you are a willing participant or a scapegoat, but a victim regardless of which category you fill. I was hoping to see some patriarchal destruction, but alas, Nightsiren does not deliver. The movie is a micro look at a global pandemic that smothers the spirit of women all over.
The Men Are Trash In Nightsiren
With the exception of one man in the village, the rest feel the audience sees are trash. The men and women here are the kinds that blame you when a man gropes you. The way the women stand by and defend the men leaves you seething. When Šarlota calls them “God-fearing wife beaters,” you cheer but also fear the repercussions for her and Mira. It is not long before villager Tomas (Marek Geisberg) and Zofa’s (Zuzana Konecná) little boys disappear. Of course, they blame Šarlota and Mira. They do not acknowledge that the boys left because Tomas abuses them and their mom.
Believable Cast Makes Nightsiren Anger-Inducing
Natalia Germani as Šarlota gives a strong, memorable turn. She already has trauma, plus the accident with her sister, that she has not processed, and Natalia delivers a beautiful, pained performance. The only issue I had was why the hell they stayed in the area. It is tragic. Just like Zofa stays with Tomas, citing that all men are the same, Šarlota and Mira remain in a volatile situation. For the villagers, any woman who lives on her terms without a man is a threat. The cast all deliver a believable story of subjugation and simmering violence.
Nightsiren is both frustrating, confusing at times, and breathtaking in its look at individual fights for freedom. You will curse it, cheer, pray for people to burn in a pit of suffering, and hope for a positive end for Šarlota and Mira. With fantastic shots of the freedom of forest living, the stifling village, and great storytelling about gender-based oppression, Nightsiren deserves praise and analysis.