SXSW Film Review: Aberrance
Mongolian thriller expands global cinema
By Trace Sauveur,
11:40AM, Tue. Mar. 14, 2023
With Aberrance, the SXSW film programming team is getting eyes on an underserved player within global cinema: Mongolia.
Director Baatar Batsukh makes his feature debut with a low-budget, sleek and stylish thriller that takes on a varied collection of different tones and ideas during its sparse 76-minute runtime.
At the heart of the many zigs and zags here is the story of a couple, Erkhmee (Erkhembayar Ganbat) and Selenge (Selenge Chadraabal), a retreat to an isolated house in the remote countryside. The only immediate sense of civilization comes in the form of a seemingly benevolent though suspiciously nosy neighbor. In fairness, his prying proves to be somewhat intuitive for detecting trouble, as he beings to suspect more and more that Selenge is being held hostage to some degree by Erkhmee. The perspective given to the audience doesn’t do anything to dissuade this notion, as Selenge is shown being force-fed pills and gets reprimanded when not following Erkhmee’s orders.
All of this is conveyed as an ominous, occasionally surreal psychodrama by the use of splendidly dynamic and creative camera work. Batsukh also serves as his own cinematographer and he works overtime to properly interpret the murky reality of the situation and of Selenge’s perspective. His bag of tricks includes quick whip pans, off-kilter camera and subject placements, bodycams, color filters, odd tilts, and the occasional dutch angle. He is constantly using the camera to full effect of heightening the story and helps to hide any low-budget seams under the veil of pure expressiveness.
It especially works during the first half when the motives and virtues of everyone in the film begin to feel up in the air and it becomes unclear who is really to blame at the heart of all this. Eventually, all is revealed and the film can’t help but lose steam as matters become too literal and obvious when before they were so admirably oblique. Any ambiguity is shoved out the window as the story becomes much more familiar and excessive, as earlier threads are continually tied up in the form of frivolous shock-value twists. It doesn’t feel like hyperbole to say that it almost feels like a completely different film than what it started out as, one not quite as cunning and more brutish.
If nothing else it never loses its fervent spirit, even if Batsukh’s indulgent imagination starts to feel like he’s getting too high on his own supply. It’s always invigorating to see an independent film with such a fiercely creative essence, and the potential to streamline this vision into something more articulate in a future project remains plainly evident.
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SXSW 2023, SXSW Film 2023, Aberrance