by Beatrice Loayza
2017 interview with Karyn Kusama about female representation in the horror community, the director of Jennifer’s Body and The Invitation pointed out the obvious to the sadly recurring question of women’s place in the dude-dominated genre: “To me, it’s pretty clear that women’s lives are just as frightening, often loaded with threats all the time (. . .) I feel like we're ideal candidates to be unearthing stories about fear, about human vulnerability, about fighting back, about terror.”
With films like It Follows and Unsane building off an established framework of what constitutes a “horror” film, Danish director Isabella Eklöf’s Holiday will seem like an incongruent entry into the growing catalogue of female-experience driven horror. Eklöf’s debut film might well be categorized a drama or thriller, given its disinterest in suspending reality. Instead, the “horror” in play is precisely the stuff of Kusama’s observation: the vulnerability and terror of being a woman in a woman’s body. No allegories. No symbolic ghosts. Just lived reality, albeit shot in a way that extends the villainous gaze of a serial killer to that of rapists, abusers, and other breeds of entitled men.
DP Nadim Carlsen beautifully captures the idyllic setting with low-contrast lighting that accentuates the bright, buoyant atmosphere of a tourist town mid-summer, as well as wide, static frames that single out and observe bodies against long stretches of blue water and white walls. Such a picturesque vision provides an effective contrast to the dark narrative and the mounting sense of restriction and containment. When it becomes clear that she’s nothing more than Michael’s arm candy, Sascha wanders off into flirtations with a handsome Dutch vacationer she meets at an ice cream shop. Though a certain leniency is assumed of their lifestyle, Michael is not one to be sexually slighted. Sascha’s actions independent of him are frequently shot as if being watched from a distance, a tension that underscores the tightrope nature of her errant conduct and the danger she courts by rebelling against a man with no scruples.
With a nuanced approach to the relationship between a young woman and the men who serve as her abusers, easy moral judgments are eschewed in the service of creating a difficult and compelling female protagonist. Holiday impresses in a number of ways, though at the top of the list is the character study it unfolds. Portrayed by a fearless Victoria Carmen Sonne, Sascha is one of the most thrilling characters of 2018, and Eklöf a daring young filmmaker to keep on your radar.
Holiday made its U.S. premiere at this year’s Sundance, and also played at Brooklyn Horror Fest and Fantastic Fest, where it won the Next Wave Awards for Best Picture and Best Director.