Olalla’ Film review
Reviewed by Jonathan Weichsel
Published in MoreHorror.com
There has been a huge explosion in recent years of great female horror film directors who are transgressing boundaries with gory, exciting, thought-provoking blood baths. Amy Hesketh, an American writer-director-producer-actress working out of La Paz, Bolivia is a name that should be on everybody’s lips when they talk about female horror film directors, but unfortunately she is virtually unknown in her own country.
I am not quite sure why this is. Perhaps it is because she lives and creates so far away in such a remote country, but more likely it is because her films are so sexually transgressive, and are so determined not only to deal with taboo subject matter, but to be taboo objects themselves, that it’s just a little much for high-strung Americans to deal with, or perhaps, even more likely, the gate-keepers, such as film festival directors and horror journalists, who are making the assumption that Americans couldn’t possibly deal with Hesketh’s work.
Amy’s films are amazing, and Olalla is her most entertaining and horror-centric film to date. The long takes of Amy’s previous films have been replaced by quicker cuts, giving the film a little more energy and a seemingly faster pace.
Throughout the history of vampire literature, the vampire, or vampirism has been used as a metaphor for many different things. There have been stories written about economic vampirism, sexual vampirism, psychological vampirism, vampirism has been used as a metaphor for drug addiction, capitalism, and the decline of the bourgeois.
In Olalla, vampirism is used as a metaphor for sexual shame, and how this shame is inflicted on the deviant individual from without, as opposed to coming from within as most people assume it does.
Olalla is about an ancient, incestuous family of vampires living in a remote, secluded estate visited occasionally by people who need to go to the country for a cure. Amy plays the title character, Olalla, a morose figure whose urges are kept at bay, repressed by her family’s strict customs.
Olalla’s family has a taboo against killing for blood, but Olalla has an urge to kill that is depicted in the film as being very natural, much like the sex urge. After she kills her boyfriend to suck his blood, Olalla’s family strips her naked, ties her up, and her uncle whips her repeatedly with a riding crop as he whispers in her ear that she is a monster.
The scene is sexy, but it is also disturbing because of its psychological undertones. Sexy but disturbing is a description that can be used to describe the tone of entire movie, as well as much of Amy’s other work.
Olalla is full of Amy’s lush, art-student production design and gorgeous cinematography , and Amy gives a sexually charged performance, making the film enjoyable to watch, but the film never stops provoking the viewer with its Freudian critique of social mores and how they work to restrict and control the individual’s sexuality and other drives.
Olalla is something of an art-horror film, and is to put it bluntly deliberately confusing. There are actually two stories taking place, one set in modern times and one that seems to take place in the 17th century, but because the characters in both stories are from the same family line and played by the same actors, I didn’t actually realize this until the climactic scene of the movie when (spoiler alert) Amy is stripped naked and crucified.
However, at the moment I realized that I was watching two different stories, the rest of the film immediately clicked together for me, which just goes to show how strong the film’s narrative structure is. Telling two distinct but similar stories also ties Olalla thematically to some of Amy’s other works.
While I think it is safe to say that the majority of films that deal with sexuality depict sex as an encounter, Amy’s films have always depicted sex instead as a pattern. Olalla takes what was already present in Amy’s films even further by depicting its pattern of sexual behavior generationally rather than focusing on an individual.
Olalla is a film that I am going to have to watch a few times before I fully grasp all of it. It is a highly original take on the vampire tale, and very much recommended.
Check out the NSFW trailer here: http://vimeo.com/114303538
And you can buy a download of the film or buy the DVD here: http://vermeerworks.com/