Title: Hour of the Wolf
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Length: 87 Minutes
Genre: Drama, Horror
This was my first exposure to a full Ingmar Bergman film. I had seen many scenes of his films, the famous playing Chess with Death scene from The Seventh Seal is one that appeared many times in my film classes. I was very familiar with Ingmar Bergman as a whole and find it funny that out of all his films this would be the first one I officially see.
The reason I find that funny is because fans seem divided over this film. It’s apparently uncharacteristic of his usual style and alienated a lot of viewers who loved his work. It seems they just didn’t expect a film like this from their beloved Ingmar Bergman and were quick to call it his worst film. Even critics have gone on to say this isn’t his best film but consider it important as a whole.
Briefly, Hour of the Wolf (or Vargtimmen as it’s called in its original language, Swedish), tells the story of a tortured artist, Johan, (Played amazingly by the very talented Max Von Sydow) who brings his wife, Alma, (played here by a scene-stealing Liv Ullmann), to an island for a vacation where he hopes to find peace to complete his artwork. As time passes, he finds himself slowly being consumed by his inner demons, fears and anxieties, slowly dragging his wife down with him. The lines of reality and fiction become blurred as he makes his descent into madness, his inner demons taking over his life.
This wasn’t the easiest movie to sit through. It was a little hard to follow and started off a little confusing, which obviously was probably the intention on Ingmar’s part. Once the end comes around the pieces do fall into place and it makes more sense, but it took me a second viewing to appreciate what was happening. This seems to be one of those movies that gets better with each subsequent view. Having experienced this I can understand why it would turn people off the first time around and people will rarely watch a movie a second time if the first time wasn’t a good experience. The second viewing definitely helped in answering questions I had but I can understand someone not wanting to do that. The argument could be made that if it wasn’t clear the first time around then it probably wasn’t that good, but that’s the tricky thing with psychological horror films. How do you convey what you’re going for without being too on the nose and retaining that level of subtly?
Not Your Usual Horror
An aspect of this film most have a hard time agreeing on is its categorization as a Horror film. If you’re going into it expecting the usual gore, slasher, jump scare, supernatural ghost haunting type of horror film then you will be heavily disappointed. This is not that type of Horror film, it’s a psychological horror film that acts as a character study of a man falling deep into his own psyche. Every moment of the film the viewer questions what is reality and what is fiction as the lines between both become more and more blurred. This is supported by the fact that the movie is framed by the filmmakers informing the viewer that this is all based off Johan’s diary and Alma’s traumatic retelling of the events. Taking into account that Johann was in a terrible mental state every time he wrote into his diary and stayed up long hours into the night with no sleep, forcing his wife to stay up with him, which means her mental state wasn’t the best during the events either. It becomes difficult to tell if everything we’re seeing is actually happening or just personifications of his own inner demons coming to life. Are the other people living on the island really there or are they just figments of his own imagination. It becomes clear at the end that his inner demons have truly overtaken him and his worst fears are becoming reality right before his eyes. It becomes terrifying as you see this man fall victim to his own mind and be taken to the darkest parts of his psyche.
Even though this isn’t a typical horror, we’re met with some haunting scenes. At the halfway mark we’re met to a scene that takes pale during the hour of the wolf where Max Von Sydow, in one of his greatest moments, says a monologue of a past childhood trauma he had. It’s all done in one long shot with low lighting to reflect the darkness that has consumed his life. Other scenes include a puppet show given to them, an anxiety-filled dinner party that’s cut so quickly with sporadic pieces of conversation that leave you as confused as the two leads, and the showing of a skeleton in Johan’s closet that builds in tension as the accompanying music supports the scene to deliver an absolutely chilling scene. This may not be a typical horror but the paranoia and chilling tension that’s created throughout are enough to not sit well with the viewer.
This is a tough one to recommend. As much as I would love to recommend it to everyone, I know the average film viewer probably won’t enjoy it. If you’re a film buff looking to expand your film knowledge then this is a film for you, especially if you’re into foreign films and willing to give it multiple viewings. For the average viewer I probably would tell you to skip it unless you’re intrigued enough to watch it, then, by all means, go ahead, but be prepared.