Film: Psalm 21 **
UK Release Date: 30th May 2011
Running time: 114 mins
Director: Fredrik Hiller
Starring: Jonas Malmsjo, Niklas Falk, Bjorn Bengtsson, Gorel Crona
Reviewer: Adam Wing
Thomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In is one of the strongest horror films of the last ten years, so I’m surprised that it’s taken this long for another Swedish horror movie to surface. Though to be fair, there’s a good chance that similar efforts have passed me by, because this latest offering arrives without the fanfare of Alfredson’s celebrated classic.
Directed by Fredrik Hiller, Psalm 21 is a routine thriller dressed in religious robes and familiar horror tassels. A film in which everybody acts suspiciously and the CGI enhanced demons outstay their welcome. Billed as a horror movie, you’ll be better serviced if you ignore the booming bass lines and quick-fire editing; no cliché is too contrived in Fredrik Hilller’s overindulgent oddity.
When popular Stockholm priest Henrik Horneus (Jonas Malmsjo) learns of his father's death from an apparent drowning accident, he travels to a desolate village in order to investigate the mysterious death. However, his arrival at the village sets dark forces into motion, opening a door to the other side where ghosts from the past cross over into the real world. Solving the mystery of his father’s death could prove to be the least of Henrik’s worries though, first he should think about saving his soul from the hell that consumes him.
Hiller’s direction is well intentioned, and the moody cinematography and creepy sound design occasionally hit home, but the Sixth Sense styling fails to disguise a horror movie that went out of fashion ten years ago. Thankfully, what Psalm 21 lacks in originality it makes up for in powerful performances. Jonas Malmsjo makes for a convincing lead, providing the film with a jittery, uneasy representation of a man losing his faith.
On the edge throughout, he is perhaps Psalm 21’s one true breath of fresh air, reigning in his performance at just the right moments. That said - running in slow motion should be left to the likes of David Hasselhoff and Megan Fox - though we can’t really blame Malmsjo for that one. Per Ragnar steals the show with an all too brief portrayal of Gabriel Horneus, lighting up the screen with a venomous display that would put Ian McDiarmid’s Sith Lord to shame.
The rest of the cast are on top form as well, a lesson to be learned by the effects team, who somehow manage to destroy all their good work with ham-fisted attempts at shock factor and scares. Had Fredrik Hiller dispensed with the precarious horror elements, Psalm 21 could’ve proved a worthwhile proposition. There’s precious little tension to be bled from the cloth of discontent, and the demonic effects are laughable rather than laudable. The screenplay is no less original, but the routine thriller elements do at least hit the right notes from time to time.
It’s all very familiar, hidden beneath a religious overcoat that tries in vain to take itself seriously, but despite the best of intentions, Psalm 21 stands in the shadow of every Asian ghost story from the past ten years. Psalm 21 runs out of steam after 70 minutes, tying up its loose ends but refusing to close the door. Fredrik Hiller takes his tale back to church, hammering home the well-worn themes of faithlessness and denial. It’s a powerful indictment that loses its edge, thanks largely to the routine nature of all that has gone before it. Jonas Malmsjo refuses to go down with the sinking ship of mediocrity, as do the rest of the cast, and together they just about disguise the banality of it all.
Never quite knowing which way to go, Psalm 21 fails to ignite as both a horror movie and a thrilling character study. The scares are uninspired, the twists too clearly signposted, and were it not for the exceptional work of the actors involved, Psalm 21 would’ve surrendered its soul long before the final credits roll.