Sunday, September 11, 2022

POST MORTEM (2020) Blu-ray Review

Post Mortem (2020) d. Peter Bergendy (Hungary) (115 min)

Following a near-death experience in the final days of World War I, former soldier Tomas (Viktor Klem) adopts a very specific and macabre profession. As a portrait artist for the recently expired, he allows the bereaved an opportunity for closure, creating family photos that combine living and dead subjects. Whilst working with a traveling sideshow, a young orphan girl Anna (Fruzsina Hais) asks him to come to her village which has recently been decimated by the Spanish flu; with the winter ground too hard to bury the bodies, it seems like an ideal opportunity for Tomas to snap a few more pics and pocket a few more coins. However, he and Anna discover a powerful supernatural force surrounding the small community, one that proves increasingly violent toward the locals. Teaming up with a kindly spinster Marcsa (Judit Schell), the two race against time to find the answers before the restless spirits tear the place apart.

The Hungarian entry for the Oscars last year, Post Mortem skillfully blends genre tropes with period art house flair, and while director Bergendy definitely knows his way around a jump scare, he’s equally invested in world-building and character relationships. Klem, a dead ringer for a young and fit early 1980s Tom Hulce, proves a solid lead, jaded by his life experiences and subsequent job choices yet still human enough for viewer identification, and he is ably matched by the skilled Hais, all twinkly eyes and girlish smiles one minute and shrieking terrified innocent the next.

There’s a lot to chew on in Piros Zankay’s script, even if some of it doesn’t necessarily pay off as fully as it could. The novel idea of a benevolent photographer of corpses is something I’ve not seen before, yet not much is done with the premise once Tomas and Anna arrive at the village and being taking snaps. Yes, he does rig up his cameras and attempt to capture a few images of the grumpy specters, but it would have been nice to have his profession prove a little more essential to the resolution, which has more to do with his earlier brush with the beyond than his chosen occupation. Still, the smoke and mirrors approach works fine in the moment; it’s only out in the lobby that one starts to wonder what more could have been done with the premise.

Along with Andras Nagy’s gorgeous cinematography and the production design team’s excellent efforts, a good deal of credit for the ominous atmosphere goes to composer Attila Pacsay, whose low and powerful brass tones sink into our bones and rattle our teeth to great effect.

While Zankay’s ultimate explanation for the onscreen supernatural elements are not nearly as original as his plot devices and character flourishes, he and Bergendy earn enough audience goodwill by the final reel, evidenced by the shovelfuls of awards picked up during the film’s festival fun. The special effects are imaginative, visceral, and creepy without ever resorting to cheaper gross-out tactics, and the more fantastic aspects (such as a house inexplicably sinking directly into the earth during the finale and filling up like the underground apartment in Dario Argento’s Inferno) are sold with such gusto that we are more than happy to go along for the ride.

Post Mortem is available September 20 on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be pre-ordered HERE:


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