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The horror genre, as prolific and saturated as is it, is perhaps most crowded with tropes and clichés, many that are so standard, that to alter them would be to upset a delicate balance and risk redefining what horror is. That said, the reason they remain so prevalent is because how effective they are, tapping into our baser, almost limbic core. And then scaring the bejeezum out of us.
The short film therefore serves as an excellent gateway into the genre, a reason why so many anthologies in horror exists. In a small frame of time, we can visit upon a theme quickly, disregard with characters mostly, and get right to the good stuff. With The Madame in Black, a 24-minute foreign-language horror/thriller from Sweden, there is much that is familiar for fans of the genre, and yet, even as it follows the formula, has a lot of appeal nonetheless.
Starting in the mid-90s, it follows a pair of kids, an older sister named Emma (Zalma Lopez) who coaxes her young brother Alex (Oliver Lopez) to the basement to play an urban legend game where one calls out the name of a terrible spirit three times in hopes of conjuring it to appear. What happens, I won’t divulge, but years later, as the siblings are now adults, it has had some effect, especially on Alex.
At Emma’s (now played by Ida Gyllensten) birthday party, Alex (now played by Demis Tzivis) gives Emma the very same mirror they used as children to play the game, and with their partners Sarah (Jennica Landén) and Harry (Kase Chlopecki) in tow, decide to play again. You can guess it doesn’t go well.
The Madame (Ellinor Rosander) is said to be a witch from the 1630s who was burned alive and now haunts and slaughters those who call her from the grave and while none of that is original, it is based on an actual legend and does offer up some legit jumps. Written and directed by Jarno Lee Vinsencius, who has an impressive catalog of short films to his name dating back almost ten years, The Madame in Black, or Svarta Madam in its native language, is another solid contribution.
While the story itself is one most have seen before, like any in the genre, it’s how it’s presented that does the trick, and Vincencius packs the short runtime with some old classics and a few fresh takes in a movie that succeeds more with its visuals than its narrative. Seeped in rich dark tones and long shadows, there is an unsettling creepiness to the experience that works well, with odd angles and quick cutaways, and while the jump-scare score becomes a bit overdone, there’s no taking away from the heavy atmosphere, even as a bit more subtlety might have done better.
It becomes a bit disjointed–perhaps by design–as it heads into the final act, and new characters become fodder for the witch rather than anyone of any value, yet, in a film such as this, the body count and the jolts that see their end is why we watch. More psychological than gory, the story looks to play upon a psychosis of sort, especially with Alex, and for a good bit, we aren’t sure if it is real or not, and perhaps that ambiguity is essential for its ending as well, leaving the viewer who is so inclined to consider such things, much to think about.
Movie description: The Madame in Black is a 2017 short horror film about a Swedish urban legend that a pair of siblings learn might actually be true.
Director(s): Jarno Lee Vinsencius
Actor(s): Demis Tzivis, Ida Gyllensten, Ellinor Rosander
Genre: Horror, Foreign-Langauge