The Man in the Orange Jacket: the genesis of Latvian horror
by Thomas Humphrey
- Marxist, mystical and Freudian, this movie is all the things that you rarely expect from horror films nowadays. An assured first step for Latvian cinema
Unsurprisingly, Aik Karapetian’s The Man in the Orange Jacket [+see also:
interview: Aik Karapetian
interview: Roberts Vinovskis
film profile] will be making yet another festival appearance in the 18th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival’s Tridens Competition. The film assuredly details a laid-off worker’s revenge on society, but there is also something much more primordial going on in this vengeful tragedy.
The Man in the Orange Jacket seems like quite a groundswell of ancient mysticism. Once upon a time, our pagan ancestors shared a common myth: the story of a timeless grove guarded by a solitary, mage-like figure with restless, roving eyes. The reason for his unceasing vigil? Somewhat grimly, the steward of the sacred wood was his predecessor's murderer, and would go on to be his successor's victim; so he must keep watch to stay alive. The titular man, a dockworker, becomes locked in a similar struggle in the middle of a vast woodland scene.
But unlike his prehistoric counterpart, Karapetian's latest pretender to the seat of divinity (somewhat gloriously) dons a bright high-visibility jacket. Equally, his murderous usurpation is no longer motivated by otherworldly rewards. Far from it: in what seems unmistakably to be a critique of contemporary capitalist culture, the man carries out his gory task purely to gain access to a microcosm of wealth that he, as a labourer, is well and truly excluded from.
In general, The Man in the Orange Jacket always seems to be cleverly commenting on the post-Recession world. We see a company CEO attempt to shut down his business; and whilst he may not be unaffected personally, his excessive lifestyle certainly does not seem to have taken a hit. That is the cue for his own anonymous worker to challenge him with a Macbeth-like fury, armed with the tools of his trade (literally: saws, screwdrivers, hammers and so on).
These dark, powerful events irresistibly connote Marxist thought, like the final realisation of a working-class revolt bent on violently overthrowing the ruling class of oligarchs. The horror of this film really does come from this incredibly grotesque, blunt invasion of the bourgeois home, too (and its grotesquely luxurious sanctity). The suggestion seems to be that nowhere is now safe from the fury of post-Recession politics.
And if you hadn't already guessed, Karapetian has been rather clever with the horror or thriller genres (something you don't get to say very often). This feature sits and lurches on the screen like a morose, Latvian version of The Shining, with lots of corridors, doors and thrilling psychological confusion. The constant opening and closing of doors all seems rather Freudian, too – like constant acts of repression and release.
Indeed, the whole movie flits between dreams, illusions and visions in an almost Freudian manner. The effect is definitely messily chaotic, but that’s the point. Time in this film passes and replays rather as it would in a dream, and as a viewer, we’re meant to fumble our way through Karapetian’s increasingly maddening world with thrilling uncertainty.
A fog of ambivalence enshrouds the protagonist’s do-it-yourself, murderous redistribution of wealth, however. This is no Occupy-esque move to represent the 99%, but rather a self-serving grab at luxury. In fact, the brilliantly acted out anti-hero, played by Maxim Lazarev, does nothing but rather repulsively envelope himself in a whirlwind of gluttony and prostitutes. And soon, like Macbeth or his pagan forebears before him, the usurper starts looking feverishly over his shoulder for the next potential schemer, seeing what may or may not be there.
One thing is certain, however. The Man in the Orange Jacket puts Latvian cinema firmly on your radar. You become curious as to whether the rest of contemporary Latvian cinema is this gutsy, gory and fundamental. This unusual film shows lots of promising potential for the future, and its almost folkloric, oneiric experience is one not to be missed by fans of cinematic oddities.