What do you get when you mix a LoveFilm account, a film buff that has yet to see many of the highly acclaimed classics, and a list of those aforementioned classic films everyone must see in their life time?
You get me, sitting in bed watching the classic and highly acclaimed Swedish “horror film” The Seventh Seal. This is a review: A Failed Journalist style. Hopefully that won’t put you off reading it!
In short, it’s about a knight who plays chess with Death, a pasty faced man in a long black coat. He, as in the knight, goes on a bit of a journey to get answers to Life, The Universe and Everything, and people die.
In long, it’s about a knight called Antonius Block who starts a game of chess with Death, the pasty faced fellow in a long black coat, starts winning and then goes on a journey through a village and ends up befriending some street entertainers. He accidentally gives away how he’s beating Death at chess so far, to Death himself (OHNOEZ)…. And it takes place during the plague.
The Street Entertainers are a 3 men circus troupe, consisting of 2 men, Skat and Jof, and a woman called Mia. Mia and Jof are husband and wife, and they have a bouncing baby boy called Mikael.
Whilst Antonious Block and his squire Jons are in the village, at the same time as the troupe, Skat runs off with the village blacksmith’s wife for a brief affair, and the blacksmith takes a disliking to the troupe. Understandably. And then later on in the film, he has a change of heart when his wife goes back to him, and they all, minus Skat, carry on going through the woods in a wagon together.
Around about the same time, Block’s Squire, Jons, accumulates a female villager. Yes, accumulates, and no, that’s not a euphamism. Well…
First he rescues her from being killed, then he tries to kiss her, then he points out that he could have done much worse, and then tells her she owes him and so she better go along with him. So she does…
I’ll be honest, I found the film very interesting but confusing. At the fifty minute mark, I had yet to see how this film could be a horror film. I mean, horrific things were implied, but not so much seen on screen.
Most of the eery, chilling atmosphere was disrupted by the street entertainer troupe. I found they made the film lighthearted and that confused me, and I wondered whether it was for a paradox effect due to them singing, at the same point where Skat runs off with the Blacksmith’s wife, about The Black One (presumably the devil or death wrapped up in the plague). But then that theory was dashed when their performance was interrupted by a Priest and his group of flagellants. They believed that the plague was a form of punishment from God, so they were punishing themselves so that God didn’t have to.
All lighthearted confusion brought on by the troupe’s jesting get up and singing was forcefully sucked out of the atmosphere in favour of dark, eery confusion brought on by the chanting, the crying, the whipping and the young girl with a crown of thorns on her head…
Despite it being set during the Plague, people dying en masse was mostly implied. Nothing truly graphic happened on screen, and maybe it’s the implications and the knowledge of what was happening off screen that was meant to be the horror for most of the film. Or maybe it’s not, maybe the old Hays Production Code was in effect and did genuinely have an impact on how horror-filled the first 50 minutes of this film was meant to be, and it’s just that i’m desensitised to what was found to be truly horrifying back when people were seeing this film for the first time due to today’s society being as desensitised to horror as it is, generally.
But then I hit the fifty minute mark and understood what made this film undoubtably a horror film.
Death keeps popping up to play chess, so Block is never free, and the nearer to the end of the game they get, the more desperate for answers he is. A girl who is said to have met the devil gets burnt at the stake. It was mostly off screen, but they showed the stage, fire and stake being set up. She was tied up, Block took pity on her and gave her something “to help with the pain”, and they rode away into the night before she died.
Jof, known for his “Visions” which most people don’t believe, sees Block playing Chess with Death, whilst Mia can only see him playing by himself, and they run off to safety before Death kills them all.
Death announces the next move will be checkmate and says he will return, leaving Block, his squire Jons, The Blacksmith, his wife Lisa, and the village girl to return to Block’s home with his wife Karin.
This is where it actually felt chilling for me. I’ve always had a fear of omnipotent presences, and Death coming back to take their lives was pretty frightening, but in a calm and eery sense. Block was visibly disturbed, and Jons prayed, but the rest welcomed him and accepted their fate.
Death just stood there, with his eery smile. They had no power, no say so in the situation, they just have to go along with is, as is the case when your time really is up in the real world, be it by sickness, age or a fatal accident. This film very much reminds it’s viewers that dying isn’t usually up to us, it is a decision made for us.
The last we see of them all is when Jof sees them “dancing in a line” across the road at the top of the dunes. Jof, Mia and little Mikael are the only survivors.
If I hadn’t have watched to the very end, I’d have been left dissappointed and confused. But I watched it to the end and not only can I accept it as a horror film, but I’m also able to appreciate it on a shallow level as well see it has many other levels should I feel the need to delve into them, and I’m sure that those other reveal even more horrifying and chilling factors with a proper analysis.
The end, for example, made me wonder whether Death was just a metaphor for the plague all along anyway. And that when they died, did they die of the plague, leaving the remaining street entertainers plus baby free of the disease? Was the plague a metaphor too?
I’m convinced that it was all just one big metaphor, either way, but I can’t decide what for. It just might be up for a free for all fest for people to decide for themselves what it was a metaphor for, if it indeed was a metaphor.
Now, the real question is: Did I enjoy the film?
Yes. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it again. I know a good film put together with great acting, scene work and directing when I see it, but the 50 minutes it takes for all the strands to come together to make a horror film is too long for me.