Hoping to make time with a pretty young farmer, a student decides to spend his holiday on a remote island but soon finds himself trying to unravel a mystery. A ghostly, eerie drama that skates on the edge of horror. [...]
This isn’t a slasher film or even a murder mystery in the classic sense but it does reflect the silent era’s international fixation with the macabre and morbid. And the questions posed in the film do not have easy answers even when we are presented with the solution, which runs completely counter to the usual “one more thing” or “here’s what happened” sum-up found in mysteries. Finding the truth only leads to more questions and peace of mind is difficult to come by. [...]
This is a movie that stays with you and haunts you for days after viewing it. The eerie imagery, the stark cinematography, the vestiges of pagan rites on the island all combine to create something macabre and fascinating. I hesitate to directly compare a foreign picture to something American but BEFORE THE FACE OF THE SEA is very much the spiritual cousin of American Southern Gothic. (Think Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Night of the Hunter.) There is a feeling of decay, of crimes ancient and modern, of something not quite human. It’s striking.
Director Teuvo Puro and cinematographer KurtJäger (who were also in charge of the studio Komedia-Filmi) are to be praised for creating this languid, menacing picture. As for the performances, they get the job done, though they do tend to fall a bit into the melodramatic. Then again, if the tone of the film is meant to be strange and off-putting, more stylized performances are acceptable in such a context.
BEFORE THE FACE OF THE SEA is a creepy and deeply disturbing film that deserves some more attention. It’s a real hidden gem of European silent cinema.
Fritzi Kramer, moviessilently.com, 12.4.2020