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BHFF 2022 Review- Repulse- Extreme For A Reason

I’m not a fan of extreme horror. It makes me feel jittery inside, and not in a good way. I appreciate the art form but torture porn and misery porn just aren’t my jam. Films like Terrifier and the buzzfest that has become Terrifier 2 and the infamous bedroom scene are meant for a different audience. So with trepidation, I watched Repulse showing at the Brooklyn Horror Film Fest 2022.

The tagline, the most extreme film to come out of the Czech Republic, is no joke. But, while the intense movie A Serbian Film shows more, Repulse certainly holds up in the misery department. Repulse has a lot to say about trauma and forgiveness. Pain transcends all boundaries and unites those of us brave enough to listen. And listen, you must go through every anguished cry or ugly scream that fills the dialogue exiguous eighty minutes.

Writer and director Emil Krizka’s feature debut is a surprising mediation on abuse, revenge, and ultimately positive life choices. Repulse is the story of two seemingly disparate families. At first glance, they have nothing in common. One is rigidly clean and controlled, while the other can only be described as feral and depraved. Think the Texas Chainsaw family supper kind of depravity. Tightly wound Katerina, an amazingly restrained Pavla Gajdosíková, and quiet monster Robert(Petr Panzenberger) live with their daughter in the vision of wealth and privilege. Their house is gorgeous and expensive and anything but a home. Robert takes pleasure in hurting his wife whenever the whim suits him. A yell here, a burned hand there. It’s all the same when it elicits a yelp from her. She is deeply unhappy, and their daughter is forced to watch it all.

The other family consists of Stepán Kozub living with his mother and another nasty surprise I’ll leave for you to find. In this family unit, she is the sadistic one. He lives in a trailer, and she in a shack that looks like they have been caked in excrement and left to rot. Neither family is family, and they couldn’t be further apart in station. The connection between the two only becomes clear later in the film when their tragic encounter solidifies all their fates.

Both of these families are dealing with grief and decades of trauma. Yet, how they deal with their pain is surprisingly similar, even as it is vile. Decay, rot, and insidiousness have crept into both families that find themselves on a collision course with one another.

Repulse is most successful when it shows how similar these two very different families are. One is clean and orderly, while the other is dirty as a character trait. Like Pig Pen of the Peanuts gang, these people seem to revel in filth and choose it as a defining characteristic as opposed to a decision based on necessity. Repulse makes it clear that pain is universal. It doesn’t discriminate based on class, race, or background. It seeks out everyone and affects them in profound ways. Some choose to rebel, and others quietly endure until they snap. Sometimes the best revenge is contentment.

The narratively loose film only begins to make sense in the final act, putting all the pieces together in a kaleidoscopic crescendo of misery and rage. Repulse is the kind of movie that asks for multiple viewings to gather the nonlinear clues. That’s one of its strongest attributes. The depravity isn’t for shock purposes. It is delivering a message that requires patience to uncover.

There are a lot of uncomfortable moments, and writer and director Emil Krizka chooses to glance away at the exact right moment to hit the hardest. Somehow by not showing the worst atrocities, we are affected more by them. Instead, Krizka focuses the viewer on the perpetrators and the endurers of the pain and dissects their behaviors instead of the pain itself. It’s a smart move that allows the film to be more than simple torture porn. There is purpose and intention here that is often lost in extreme cinema like this. More akin to some French Extremism films like Irreversible, which use violence to inform the narrative instead of just disgust for the sake of being disgusting.

Repulse is exceptionally patient with its answers allowing the nonlinear story to play out almost casually. This judicious decision pays off in huge ways, making the resolution even more impactful. The film is as chaotic as the characters themselves. They are all twisted and warped in unimaginable ways, and the film structure feels ripped directly from their minds. It probably works best when you are still confused about what is going on and just existing in the lived experience of the miserable people.

There is very little dialogue, yet you never feel like you are missing anything. Such is the nature of the incredible performances and wonderfully profane set pieces. Moments tick by in agonizing detail, making little sense as a collective whole until it is too late to turn away. Intentionally sparse with words every grunt, groan, and guttural cry is amplified in the viewers’ ears. This exercise in agony and trauma is visceral and painful to watch. The claustrophobic nature of the film plops the viewer right in the middle of this bleak world and asks you to survive along with them.

Repulse argues that violence is a cycle that can only be broken out of with extreme intention. Yet, it’s a film that, for as bleak as it is, is an argument for hope. Revenge is a dish best served with a life well lived. You can’t undo the past, but you can certainly affect your future. Repulse is playing as part of the Brooklyn Horror Film Fest 2022. You can find all our coverage here.