Review originally published here.
Beata Gårdeler’s Flocking (Flocken) is a pared-back Swedish thriller and winner of the prestigious Crystal Bear at Berlin’s International Film Festival earlier this year. With Sweden’s rise to notoriety in recent years for its disproportionately low conviction rate of sexual offenders, it seems likely that quite a few of the audience members watching Gårdeler’s film will have this in mind as they witness the uncomfortably familiar horrors of social misogyny unfolding on screen.
While there is little actual violence in Flocking, the small amount that Gårdeler includes is stark, deliberate, and untouched by either Hollywood histrionics or an invasive soundtrack. This makes it all the more chilling, the mundane atmosphere ratcheting up the tension simply because it highlights the disturbingly commonplace proximity to violence which haunts everyday life.
The events of Flocking take place in a semi-rural village in Sweden, a setting skilfully exploited for its dark forests and sense of isolation, and complemented by a score all the more powerful for its simplicity and sparing use. The film’s opening sequences set the tone, moving from the very picture of innocence as girls in pastel bridesmaid dresses laugh and dance, then shifting into darker territory, tracing the journey of a wedding cake as it wobbles precariously through dim hallways and past dangling animal carcasses awaiting butchery, before arriving back at the lively wedding celebrations.
An undercurrent of potential violence amplifies the tension of each scene, with rifles, dead animals and empty homes building anticipation of new twists. Gårdeler splits the film into something like chapters, pausing to fill the screen with a symbolic image as the text exchanges of an escalating online bullying campaign appear line by horrific line, driving the action forward. The cinematography is all the more effective for its use of contrasts; silhouettes add mystery and tension, while close-ups heighten claustrophobia and ensure ample focus on the rape survivor, 14-year-old Jennifer, played by in a convincingly restrained manner by newcomer Fatime Azemi.
A compelling portrayal of the all-too-familiar process of social exclusion and victim-blaming, Flocking takes the audience on a journey through darkness both visual and spiritual in this forceful and unflinching thriller.