The Red Spider: An atmospheric recreation of communist-era Poland
by Laurence Boyce
- The eagerly awaited feature debut by Polish filmmaker Marcin Koszalka is a precise and chilling examination of obsession and death
With a plot following a young man obsessed with a serial killer, it would be easy to assume that The Red Spider [+see also:
interview: Marcin Koszalka
film profile] treads the path of genre conformity. But Marcin Koszalka’s film eschews typical narrative tropes to produce a rich and atmospheric work that refuses to offer any easy answers.
Krakow in the 1960s. Young man Karol is an accomplished diver and a credit to his family. After visiting the funfair, he discovers the body of a young boy – a victim of the serial killer known as The Red Spider. After noticing a mysterious stranger near the body, Karol decides not to tell the authorities and tracks the man down. The two strike up a complex and dangerous friendship in which Karol becomes ever more obsessed by death, and events soon lead to terrible actions and confessions.
This is an austere piece of work in which the muted atmosphere of communist-era Poland is recreated in minute detail. With Koszalka gaining notoriety not only for his cinematography on many hit Polish films but also for his sharply observed documentaries, there is a palpable sense of realism here. This is reflected in the motivations of the main characters – little is said and little is explained about their actions, and instead, we have to glean what we can from the (astounding) performances and mise en scène. And when the measured exterior of the movie is broken by sudden acts of emotion and violence, the film’s power becomes magnified. The Red Spider’s triumph is in managing to pose questions about the morality of violence and the fear of death while still successfully chilling the audience and evoking visceral reactions.
With Koszalka’s documentary work already making him a popular name across the festival circuit, The Red Spider – after its world premiere in international competition at Karlovy Vary – should do well on said circuit (it’s already booked to screen at Poland’s New Horizons Film Festival), and its unique twist on a well-worn genre may very well earn it arthouse distribution as well.