By Elias Savada.
The ominous hum of unease that saturates Swiss-born director Michael Krummenacher’s effective yet derivative German thriller Sibylle – being sold worldwide under the title Like a Cast Shadow – sounds distinctly familiar. Is it a doppelganger? A transference tale? A journey-into-madness melodrama? Take your pick. You might see pieces of last year’s Goodnight Mommy, a dab of Polanski’s The Tenant (1976), and dashes of Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) at any given moment in this low-budget (but nice veneer), 87-minute indie, which screened at this year’s DCIFF. Good models all, but I was hoping for a little more originality in the script by Kummenacher and Silvia Wolkan, who previously collaborated on Hinter deisen Bergen, the director’s 2010 debut feature. Krummenacher, based in Munich and Zurich, has gathered together tropes from numerous similar-themed horror entries, then stirred in some blood-colored skies, garish blue neon signs, steam-coated mirrors, and foggy terrains. His soundtrack has that prerequisite, forbidding edge, and his cast, including Anne Ratte Polle’s fine performance as the alienated, anguished title character, conjures our interest but eventually leaves us looking for answers that are never given. If compared to a filmmaking advance placement test, the film passes the multiple choice portions, but struggles with the essay segment.
Sibylle Froebisch is a modern-day, harried juggler of profession (an architect in a small firm she owns with her husband, Jan) and family (two sons). In a break from their harried schedule, they’re vacationing from Munich in a nearly deserted resort (it’s off-season) at Lake Garda. Restless as is her nature, she’s unable to sleep, so she pops on walking clothes one drab morning and climbs the hills overlooking Italy’s largest lake. Another woman in the nearly same attire walks nearby and unceremoniously heads straight off a cliff. There’s something spooky as the stranger lay dying on the rocks below, whispering the inexplicable phrase “Everything Is Changing” to the now horrified protagonist. Her world, already fragile, is about to become unhinged. Let the bloody visions and psychotic episodes arrive with the darkness.
As if Sibylle is not fraught enough already, she starts her own haphazard investigation (at the Aurora Hotel, an apparent bastard child of the Overlook Hotel and the Bates Motel) into the dead woman, Karla, also the mother of two boys, and meets a handful of haunting, shadowy characters (and more cryptic messages, a la “You must be confusing me with someone else”) who pop up later in unwelcomed places.
Her life falls apart. We get to watch, as reality and nightmarish visions flow over one another. Sibylle’s mental collapse is bad news for the family, too. Husband-dad (Thomas Loibl) heads off to supervise a project in Brazil. The kids have their own issues. Rebellious and pimply David (Dennis Kamitz) wants to become a muscular body builder against his mother’s wishes, but he’s got darker, quite violent issues by the looks of his laptop’s browser’s history. Younger brother Luca (Levi Lang) is turning against mom, too in a silent, stary manner. Kummenacher mounts this descent into hell with a rumbling sound design (by Jörg Elsner) and floating camera (thanks to Jakob Weissner). Quick edits, courtesy of Stine Sonne Munch, make you as jumpy as the characters you are watching. It’s nice when a filmmaker can create a scene of unsettling concern by having people disappear in one shot when they were there seconds earlier. All nicely unsettling, yet ultimately unfulfilling, other than mimicking a full circle Twilight Zone ending that may be cute, but still lacks a final resolution.
Sibylle is a little too arty for its own good.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the new horror film German Angst and co-author, with David J. Skal, of Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning.