Supposedly Bergman’s only horror film, but what, the rape/revenge film that inspired Last House on the Left and the most toxic family relations I’ve ever seen and tormented people leading meaningless lives and dead men coming to life and plagues, burning at the stake and death incarnate don’t count as horror anymore?
This one does have phantoms, shaky reality and dangerous insanity, and opens the way horror films do today, claiming to be based on some evidence (in this case a diary) left behind after a disappearance. Liv Ullmann (Autumn Sonata) speaks into camera, setting up the rest of the film as a flashback, her summer on an island with painter husband Max von Sydow.
Liv’s actually the first one to see a phantom, a sweet old woman (216 years old, played by Naima Wifstrand, Granny in The Magician) who says Liv should read Max’s diary while he’s away. So when others start appearing to Max, I’m not sure if they’re real or not. There’s Baron Erland Josephson (a skeptic in The Magician, a madman in Nostalghia) with an invitation to his castle, Max’s naked ex-girlfriend Veronica Vogler (Ingrid Thulin, also a Vogler in The Magician), and a psychiatrist who Max knocks down in anger. Later Max and Liv attend a dinner party with the Baron and the psychiatrist and others (including Gudrun Brost, the clown’s exhibitionist wife in Sawdust & Tinsel, and Gertrud Fridh, Sjöström’s wife in Wild Strawberries), and they seem real enough, but Max’s state of mind is in question – he sweats as the camera whip-pans from one babbling nut to another.
The opening title appears a second time, like an intermission in a 90-minute film. The second party at the castle is less sane. Max is repeatedly promised that he’ll get to see Veronica, while the other guests show off: the Baron walks on the walls, a woman removes her face, Max is given lipstick and eyeliner and taken to meet the still-naked, possibly-dead Veronica, whereupon he states: “The mirror has been shattered. But what do the pieces reflect?” Later Liv tells us he came home and shot at her, then disappeared into the woods.
I actually think Bergman’s movies are more frightening when he’s not trying to be so Halloweeny:
Bergman’s follow-up to Persona, and they seem to have a lot in common, with dialogue about people who live together becoming alike. The DVD extras are awfully repetitive, but Marc Gervais has a few useful things to say, that Bergman’s films of this time were about personality disintegration, also his darkest and most self-conscious period (sounds of film production run under the opening titles).