In Review: ‘Spellbound’, by Robin Rippmann

Creaky floorboards, whispers in the walls and shadowy apparitions are all harbingers of an enticing horror film and are deftly incorporated into the very opening scenes of director Robin Rippman’s ‘Spellbound’, assuring the audience that they will be delighted by what follows.

Spellbound’s sound design and score are striking from the very outset. We open to the all too recognisable sound of a ready meal being peeled open, layered on top of a gentle yet ominous hum in the background which is abruptly broken by the jarring ping of a mobile phone. The balance is just right and immediately sweeps us up and delivers us into the world which is about to open up to us. 

A flash of red hues and a haunting witch-like sequence bear witness to an unknown hex which briefly shatters the rising tension only to propel us back into James’ (the protagonist) sense of being haunted by unknown forces.

Films are all about conveying emotions and tapping into the audience’s psyche. The power of this medium can elicit an array of feelings from excitement, sorrow and joy to the all-important fear. It’s that latter that many directors rely upon for a good scene and as such, movie nightmares have become an incredibly powerful tool. Some of them, like ‘Spellbound’, are far more terrifying than others.

Our protagonist enters into a terrifying and incredibly detailed animated nightmare sequence, not dissimilar to landscapes found in gaming worlds, where actor Nikolas Salmon’s face fills with terror as a pair of hands sadistically thread around his shoulders while the gleeful mirth of a woman’s laughter continues to build the terror.

James wakes up with a jolt and a montage of images interwoven from previous scenes drag us back into his bedroom as he is hastily driven back to an apparition of our previously seen woman. 

‘Spellbound’ is entirely dialogue-free until the final scene of the film which cleverly serves to further engage the audience’s interest and fully immerse us in his inner world. This scene, sees him examine the dark circles etched into his sleepless face and bizarrely enter up the driveway of a house one might think to avoid. A woven star on his neighbour’s gate reminiscent of the classic scare ‘The Blair Witch Project’ is not entirely welcoming yet, in a sudden shift of tone, an attractive woman answers the door and we are thrown into an awkward encounter typically found in much lighter genres. Does this woman not remind you of anyone, however …?

Writer and director Robin Rippmann, aided by the aforementioned brilliant sound design, employs the well-known trickery of lighting to bring his horror to life. Low key lighting where corners and recesses house the all-important shadows, stunningly separate the red-soaked spells.

The ending is very purposely ambiguous, as Robin invites his audience to question why he is engaging with the very woman whose forces are haunting him and invites us to think about questions of fate, autonomy and the choices we make in love. 

‘Spellbound’ will screen at Hastings Rocks International Film Festival, 14 & 15 April

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