I have abandoned this series for too long, so I figured it’s about time to pick it up again! The I JUST WAS… series consists of reviews of great overlooked and unknown horror movies I came across by chance and that I’d love to encourage more people to watch.
This time, my good pal Kieron – who’s a goldmine when it comes to underground horror and knows my taste in film fairly well – recommended November (2017) for me to watch. This is an art-house, experimental psychological horror film from Estonia, written and directed by Rainer Sarnet and adapted from the novel Rehepapp by Andrus Kivirähk. “Experimental” and “art-house” are labels that can put many viewers off: if you are the kind of moviegoers who prefers to stick to more traditional filmmaking, November isn’t the film for you. If you like to experience unique and unconventional movies, though, November is the gem you were looking for.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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My review is also available on IMDb – November (2017)
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November – plot… wait, what plot?
November is a mixture of magic, black humour, romance and… weirdness. In fact, this is a film that combines different genres: horror, fantasy, romance, comedy, sci-fi and more! The story is set in a pagan Estonian village where the inhabitants are forced to deal with werewolves, plagues and spirits. The villagers’ main problem is, however, how to survive the cold, dark winter. In order to do that, people steal from each other, from their German manor lords, from spirits, the devil, and Christ! To guard their souls, they’ll give them away to thieving creatures made of wood and metal called “kratts”, who help their masters by stealing more. Stealing is, in fact, an obsession that makes the villagers more and more like the soulless creatures they command. The main character of the film is a young farm girl named Liina (Rea Lest) who is hopelessly in love with a village boy named Hans (Jörgen Liik).
Although the plot description sounds really dense, November is much more about audio-visual experience than narrative. The director’s goal is clearly to communicate feelings – which are usually creepy and unsettling – rather than focusing on the storyline, which is almost uninteresting and overlooked in the movie. Even though this is done on purpose, the lack of narrative and the cultural barrier (I’m 100% ignorant when it comes to Estonian folklore and culture) are probably the two aspects I would consider less interesting in the film.
A black and white sensory journey
November is a beautifully shot black-and-white movie that fully relies on its visuals to be effective, whether that means setting up an uncomfortable atmosphere, making comedic jokes – mind you, the humour is very dark! – or delivering emotional gut-punches. The film begins with ice-cold whites and wolves wandering on gleaming surfaces. Then a winter’s scene is introduced: a farmhouse in the snow. Metallic noises of something creeping, or of gears shifting perhaps. Then: a kind of machine that looks like three crooked spokes without a wheel, turning over and over again, approaching a barn, dragging a chain…
This is what November is about: a series of different, incredibly well-filmed sequences that come together to create a folktale steeped in Eastern European folklore and myths. Aside from the unique experience delivered by visuals and spotless cinematography, the sound-design in the movie is also incredibly unconventional and memorable due to the overlapping of industrial sounds with the ancient-looking setting.
The meat is what you see
In November, there’s a story within all this unusual imagery. Many great horror movies utilise unique cinematography and technical aspects to enhance the script (The Lighthouse and Midsommar are two recent examples); others, however, completely rely on the imagery to communicate. In other words, for films like Climax or Luz (to stick to 2019 releases) the story IS the imagery. November belongs to the latter group, as you can definitely connect the dots (i.e. the surreal scenes) to create a whole picture that functions as a great one-piece.
In the case of November, what the visuals communicate is a commentary on society (whether it’s society in general or Estonian society in particular): through its apparently disconnected sequences, this film highlights unhappy marriages, clash of classes, impossibility of love and much more. I would like to go more into detail about the themes of November, but I don’t want to skew the perception of people who might want to see the movie off my recommendation.
Somewhat in between Robert Eggers’ The Witch and Lukas Feigelfeld’s Hagazussa – yet, more experimental than both of those films – November is a great overlooked horror gem that I hope more people will watch (the movie is available on Amazon Prime in many countries).
The overabundance of characters and their separated storylines made me hope for some more traditional narrative, but every other aspect of the film is basically flawless. Were I to make my Best horror movies of 2017 list all over again, November would definitely be in my top 5! If what you read sounds exciting to you, please do yourself a favour and check this movie out!
Check some of the other great movies mentioned in this review:
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