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Horror

Czech Republic’s ‘Repulse’ sinks the audience into an extended exercise in trauma that turns to brevity and non-linear storytelling to amplify its pain.

“You can do whatever you want.”
“What do I want?”

Screams of anguish are the only forms of dialogue that are present in the first ten minutes of Repulse, Emil Krizka’s ode to anger and revenge from the Czech Republic. Repulse is intentionally sparse with its dialogue so that the raw weight of every gesture and groan speak for themselves. It’s an isolating tactic, but one that immediately establishes that the world is a harsh, angry, confusing place. It’s a grim mission statement, but one that reverberates through every single frame of Emil Krizka’s Repulse.

Repulse is one big Russian nesting doll of pain, torture, and humility that only grows more toxic as the film digs deeper and casts a wider net. Repulse’s most striking trait is the back-and-forth bifurcated narrative where its audience gradually begins to put together the pieces of this traumatic puzzle box. However, once the image of Repulse finally begins to take shape it’s too late to escape or become immune to these human horrors.

Repulse engages in a staggering, heartbreaking dissection of two grieving families that are connected in vile ways. These frayed family units process this trauma through uniquely horrifying coping mechanisms. Both of these families are indebted to the idea of guardians and caretakers in one way or another, which turn the act of survival into a process that’s even more painful and depressing than death.

Repulse thrives with how it compares and contrasts these families. One family is clean; the other is ensconced in filth. One is methodical and capable, while the other is crude. Despite these differences, Repulse highlights that pain and grief don’t discriminate regardless of someone’s background or social strata. The trailer that Viktor (Stepán Kozub) is forced to live out his days in almost looks feral or that it’s pulled out of a haunted fairytale. It’s surrounded with nature and smoke, while the other family exists in the height of luxury and urban life. There are repeated moments where Viktor’s state of arrested development doesn’t seem dissimilar to the Sawyer family in Texas Chainsaw Massacre or other fringe deviants like Leslie Vernon.

On that note, Repulse feels cut (or rather hacked) from the same cloth as other gratuitous torture tales like Martyrs and Inside. The film’s tagline proudly boasts that this is “the most extreme film to come out of the Czech Republic.” It’s certainly as nihilistic as central Europe’s previous heavy horror hitter, A Serbian Film, but it’s hardly as intense or with as much to say. Repulse never purely feels like unjustified “torture porn” and it at least has something to say on grief, trauma, and forgiveness. There’s enough thematic weight to make this a horror film that appeals to more than just violence junkies, but mainstream viewers may cringe through the experience.

Repulse is a bleak cycle that inherently pushes audiences to question the point of all of this violence. The film does reveal an emotional catalyst for this free-floating pain, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been previously explored in other films, albeit with a less gritty and hostile sheen. Repulse is full of brutal, disgusting behavior, but it’s telling that the film intentionally cuts away from the acts themselves and leaves more to the audience’s imagination. It’s a stylistic decision that implies Repulse isn’t purely interested in pain and extreme violence, but rather the individuals behind these acts and how this trauma shapes their lives.

Repulse is blunt with its aggression and violence. However, the film demonstrates surprising restraint when it comes to exposition and the unconventional way in which its story plays out, all of which forms much of Repulse’s unnerving, unique personality. Repulse is a masterclass in “show don’t tell” storytelling and the severely sparse dialogue gives tremendous weight to every uttered word. So much of Repulse also intentionally obscures characters’ faces and dehumanizes them in the process.

This results in a captivating package that isn’t unsuccessful, but all of these pieces look much less impressive when they’re broken down to their basic plot elements without the advantages provided by Repulse’s atypical structure. In a way, this jumbled structure taps into the frayed mental states of the movie’s players while they all attempt to make sense of the cruel fates that have become their lives. That being said, Repulse is at its most engaging when viewers are in the middle of this experience.

Repulse rises to the occasion when it comes to unflinching tales of revenge. It’s just a dour, depressing detour that will leave gore-hounds disappointed and the narrative is too threadbare to stand out among the rest of its ilk. If nothing else, Repulse’s message seems to speak to the fact that violence only begets more violence and that the best revenge is truly a life well-lived. Unfortunately, in Repulse’s world there are just too many individuals who think that such an existence is impossible.

Repulse played at the Brooklyn Horror Fest 2022.

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