Writer/director Emir Skalonja (The Plague, Holland Road Massacre: The Legend of Pigman) begins his latest film, Gravis Terrae, with a narrator talking about the relationship between plants and humans. It seemed like a rather heavy-handed environmental message at first. But as the film unfolds it begins to make sense as the lead-in to a mix of psychological and ecological horrors.
Recently divorced Jude (Krystal Shenk, Casting Couch Slaughter, Anthropocene) is taking a hike in the woods when she literally stumbles across an oddly shaped root sticking out of the ground. Curious she takes it home to see what it grows into.
What it grows into is trouble. First, it seems to escape from the container she put it in, then it gives her a painful cut when she puts it back. As if that wasn’t reason enough to toss it back into the woods, it changes shape and gets out again, this time emitting a strange fluid that she gets on her hands. This sets off a chain of hallucinations and madness that threaten both her life and that of her daughter Monica (Bianca-Rose Lasky, The Robinsons).
The first half-hour of Gravis Terrae is actually more concerned with the horrors of real life than fictional ones. Jude and her friends Jess (Kristina Santiago, Veronika, Cool as Hell 2) and Erica (Nina Nardecchia, Casting Couch Slaughter 2: The Second Coming) talk about breakups and bad relationships. Clothes tossed on a double bed that now sleeps one. Jude tells her reflection “No more pretending we’re in our early twenties”. And the inevitable distance between her and her teenage daughter.
She also looks like she’s aged ten years in the couple of days that pass during the first act. All of which helps set up the rest of the film when we question how much of what we see is real. And how much is a stressed psyche starting to crack and come apart? Gravis Terrae does eventually answer that question, but not until its final few minutes. Up until then, it’s a nicely balanced guessing game.
Gravis Terrae really manages to nail that human aspect too. At times it certainly made me think of the end of my first marriage and my relationship with my kids as they grew up. And the fact that the plot felt authentic and grounded in reality made it easier to accept the film’s potentially supernatural elements. I’m almost curious to see how Skalonja would do filming a straight drama. But my tastes being what they are I don’t know if I could actually sit through one.
As Jude, Krystal Shenk is on screen for just about every scene in Gravis Terrae and does a good job of holding the film together. As the voice of the root, Andreas Vingbäck sounds appropriately sinister. Gravis Terrae also benefits from a solid score composed by Sakis Tolis, vocalist, guitarist and keyboard player for the band Rotting Christ. It’s subtly effective, not at all what I would have expected from someone in a Black Metal band.
Emir Skalonja has said that after Gravis Terrae he’s stepping back from film to relax, recharge his creative batteries and concentrate on some musical projects. He’s certainly picked an interesting place to hit the pause button and I’ll be curious to see what he does when he comes back.
If you like your horror a bit more on the mystical and psychological side and can handle microbudget films, Gravis Terrae should be of interest to you. Gravis Terrae is available for streaming via Vimeo On Demand. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more details.