13 June 2024

Frightfest Glasgow – Film Review – Pensive (2023)

A woodland maniac goes ballistic during a hedonistic rave in this refreshingly off-kilter slasher from Lithuania.

A class of high school graduates is all set for one last blowout before they disband into the world. However, when things go awry it falls to the reticent Marius to provide an alternative venue, not least to impress the impossibly gorgeous Brigita who is dating egotistical NBA target Rimas.

What the others don’t know is that in his lovesick mindstate, Marius has procured a remote burnt-out murder cottage with a hideous past. When the convoy of fodder arrives in what is clearly slasher central they peer pressure each other into giving fucks more solitary than their location.

Of course, Brigita mounts an impressive sound system in a nun habit with a huge neon cross and starts pumping ear-blistering techno into the peaceful Lithuanian countryside. And with that, everyone starts getting smashed off their collective tits on hash, mandy, and booze, pairing off into the woods to get jiggy, and chopping up disturbing lifesize wooden folk carvings for barbecue fuel.

As any true horror fan knows all of these activities are bloody red rags draped on the altar of the slasher gods guaranteed to summon a hate-fueled psychopath. And sure enough Algis the lunatic lullaby aficionado sharpens his crafting hatchet and wades in to oblige their offerings.

The Pensive Christ is an iconographic depiction of the messiah in a contemplative pose before his crucifixion. The image is thought to be the influence for Rodin’s The Thinker and bled into the Lithuanian folk art scene. However, rather than abuse its obvious spiritual connotations director Jonas Trukanas is more concerned with harnessing the power of its judgemental properties for his idiosyncratic slasher picture.

This striking interpretation permeates his film and forces it down some fascinating channels. We still get religious staples such as fiery retribution, internal moralisation, and an eye for an eye rationale, yet it’s through the prism of self-perception and the expediency of youth rather than under the spotlight of theology.

As a result, the characters are more interesting to hang out with and the narrative is less derivative than in your standard stalk-and-slash. Subsequently, the requisite setup process that preludes the inevitable carnage is enjoyable rather than sufferable.

Indeed the performances are all extremely watchable even though the majority of our degenerate graduates are total dick weasels.

Gabija Bargailaite’s Brigita flounces around brilliantly in the mixed messages no-mans land between narcissism and vulnerability as her lovelorn suiter Marius swings wildly from caring everyman to temper tantrum teenager.

Basketball bad boy Rimas, played with self-aggrandising relish by the photogenic Kipras Masidlauskas, is a tinder box of projected humility and thinly veiled superiority. The crazed killer Agis is realised beautifully by the highly decorated actor Marius Repšys who is clearly reveling in a role of scant exposition and maximum mania.  

The pick of the bunch though is Martynas Berulis’ ludicrously high Zygimantas. From the moment he crash lands at the party in a piss-soaked taxi he is nothing short of hilarious. Looking like a refugee from a Gaspar Noé dance scene who has watched Koen Mortier’s outrageous Ex Drummer far too many times he bounces around like he is at an 80s speedball bash on Sunset Strip to the point he has to be tethered on toddler reins.

Pensive does not deviate too far from the entrenched slasher template, all the expected fuckwitted decisions, convenient geographical teleporting, and unlikely scenarios remain consistent with the genre’s modus operandi. Yet it renovates it somewhat by way of its quirky black humour, surprisingly nuanced character acting, and spiteful survivalist instinct. This is encapsulated perfectly by the film’s wreaking ball subversion of ‘The Final Girl’ concept and its rejection of slow walk stalkings to a whispered ki ki ki  ma ma ma soundscape.

But what of the all-important body count? Does Pensive serve up a balls and all medieval hog roast or a meager platter of cold vegan chipolatas? Well, the good news is that it is far more of the former. Always operating within its slender budget the butchery is kinetically exciting, nastily graphic, and practically rendered. As always it is welcome to see invention and artistic aptitude blossom into meaty screen slaughter instead of insipid post-production effects work.

★★★★

UK  PREMIERE

 Horror, Slasher | Lithuania, 2022 | Cert. N/C 18+ | 87 mins | REASON8| Dir. Jonas Trukanas | With:Šarūnas Rapolas Meiliešius, Gabija Bargailaitė, Marius Repšys

Content Warning – Torture, Strong physical violence, Blood/ gore, Graphic nudity.


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