Cult Critic Reviews: HULDRA: LADY OF THE FOREST
By Shailik Bhaumik
It’s not easy to make a cult horror film these days without falling into the trap of getting a lot of flack for redundancy. But Ove Valeskog’s Huldra: Lady of the Forest has risen above traditional horror tropes while also paying endearing homage to those who came before.
A huldra is a seductive forest creature found in Scandinavian folklore. Associated with Christianity, a tale recounts how a woman had washed only half of her children when God came to her cottage; ashamed of the dirty ones, she hid them. God decreed that those she had hidden from him would be hidden from humanity; they became the hulders.
The film tells the story of Nanna, who lives a lonely and regimented life in Berlin. When her life crashes she receives a phone call from her long lost love, Martin, who reminds her of their carefree childhood. Martin wants her to join him for a hike in the wilderness together with some of their mutual childhood friends. One of them, Peter, has been told of a strange hermetic hippie-like society out in the Swedish wilderness, and the group sets off on an adventure unaware of the fact that once they reach their destination nothing will ever be the same again. As they are drawn deeper and deeper into the forest, mysterious events start to unsettle the dynamics of the group. Reality begins to shift in ways none of them could have imagined and relations between the friends become strained and volatile.
The fantasy element in the film is the hulder, a female forest spirit embodied in a beautiful woman that the hermit hippie Harald refers to as his daughter Gerda. However, Harald is dying and his earthly creature is breaking down from the hard life of a lonely and twisted narcissist. A replacement needs to be found, hence his sinister plan for the group. But who will the hulder choose as her new companion?
With lines between reality and fiction blurred, ‘Huldra: Lady of the forest’ is even more intriguing; giving us the chance to see how the character, the films and the society they critique have evolved throughout the years.
Hulders have been part of Nordic mythology for centuries, and was recently depicted in the Norwegian fantasy thriller “Thale”(2012). ‘Huldra: Lady of the forest’ is only the second Nordic film in modern times to feature the creature. Style-wise, this film is the avant-garde and artsy facture of the earlier films; a more contemporary guerrilla and indie approach is more logical, especially as the filmmaker works on tight budgets. Luckily, ‘Huldra: Lady of the forest’ manages to do something very impressive – it takes itself seriously by mocking its very existence.
Whether you see the previous films on huldra or not and whatever your movie tastes are, ‘Huldra: Lady of the forest’ is worth the experience. The film may not be a masterpiece but as a representation of the state of a Swedish psychological fantasy thriller cinema’s subgenre, it is an entry that should appeal to cinephiles interested in foreign and genre films…as long as they have the guts for it.