Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps (2011)

Recently there has been a slur of myth-based horror films coming out of Europe’s less-prolific filmmaking countries, with the likes of Rare Exports (Finland), Troll Hunter (Norway) and Saint (Netherlands) all arriving in the last year. What they’ve all had in common is the twist on a well-known fairy tale – from Trolls to Santa Claus – all greatly received and painted in slightly comedic tones.

Another myth-based horror has arrived from a country that has NEVER produced a genre film; the beautiful and staunchly neutral Switzerland. Instead of going down the light, fun path these other fairy-tale films have gone, Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps instead opts for a serious, dark and disturbing path, which is rocky and dangerous ground to tread. Luckily, however, Sennentuntschi does not plummet to its death, but excels in bringing us a compelling, harrowing and ultimately disturbing tale of morality and faith. It is an excellent film.

Switzerland’s first horror picture is based incredibly loosely on a myth about three men, bored on their farm high up in the Alps, who built a woman out of a broom, straw and anything else lying around. Then, when they said a certain phrase, the “woman” came to life and began cooking, cleaning and feeding the animals. But – alas – like all ancient fairy tales, something went wrong. The three men – horny and miles away from any women that weren’t hooved and goatish – had sex with their female slave. This violation was accepted at first, but then the woman took her revenge on the men… with disastrous consequences.

Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps is – for the majority of the film – set in 1975 in a small village in the Alps, where a woman staggers out of the mountains, mute and afraid. Some locals are terrified she’s a Sennentuntschi, responsible for the hanging of a local priest, whilst the not-so-local policeman takes her into his care. Meanwhile, up in the mountains, a trio of farmers go about their business, until they decide to build their own Sennentuntschi…

Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps is a complicated, winding tale, that is compelling, intriguing, beautifully shot and very disturbing. Horribly uncomfortable at times, Sennentuntschi covers a range of topics from the degradation of females to the power of the church and features harrowing scenes of violence, rape, torture… and goat-skinning. It is all done in the story-telling, taking the words of a myth and portraying them in a vivid – often disturbing – reality that is not made for titillation. Some people will be horrified by Sennentuntschi, others absolutely baffled, but I personally found it powerful, provocative, smart, brutal and haunting.

Special mention has to go to Roxane Mesquida, who plays “Sennentuntschi” exceptionally well. It’s a brave role, for a lot of reasons, and she depicts this Sennentuntschi with an air of innocence, malice and a mystic quality that is instantly bewitching and incredibly dangerous. An excellent performance throughout, especially considering it is an almost entirely mute one.

Director / Writer Michael Steiner does a fantastic job of bringing all the elements of this tale together, from the present day framing (something I normally hate, but genuinely found excellent in Sennentuntschi) to the complex characters, twists and amazing vistas which are simultaneously beautiful and sharply dangerous.

Perhaps the only problems with Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps is the patience-straining length (at nearly 2 hours) and the morality of the film – most of the men are depicted as depraved / sadistic / cruel / lustful fools – but like a modern day fairy-tale, this is a lesson to be learned. Some moments will surprise and disgust, but it makes for a stunning, shocking and compelling movie.

Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps is Switzerland’s first genre flick. Based on this, I hope to see many more in the future. Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps is a great film.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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