DVD/Blu Ray

Laurin (18) |Home Ents Review

Dir. Robert Sigl, Germany, 1988, 84 mins, audio options and subtitles

Cast: Dora Szinetar, Karoly Eperjes, Barnabas Toth, Kati Sir, Endre Katay

Review by Colin Dibben

Laurin is a striking blend of dark fairy tale and gothic horror which focuses on a young girl’s experience of dark events in a mid-19th century German village.

Little Laurin (Szinetar) is being brought up by her invalid gran after the mysterious death of her mother. Her father is a sailor and hardly ever at home. Her mother’s death coincides with the first in a series of child disappearances.

Unsurprisingly, Laurin starts to have nightmares. Ghostly children tap on her bedroom window, her mother calls from dark corners. Are these dreams? Or warnings from the realm of the dead?

Do the disappearances of the children have anything to do with the return to the village of the pastor’s son, Van Rees (Eperjes)? Laurin is soon suspicious of Van Rees and has the perfect alibi for keeping an eye on him: he’s her school teacher.

Laurin is visual storytelling of the highest order. Not every plot twist is spelled out in dialogue and the editing makes things a little oblique at times. Or is it just that I, like many people, have got used to being spoon-fed dialogue, we don’t watch closely enough anymore?. Either way, every shot oozes mood and has impact.

The film reminded me a bit of Werner Herzog’s 1974 Kasper Hauser movie, with its play-off between Laurin’s damaged, wide-eyed innocence and the repressed formality of grownups like the pastor. But feelings of sexual repression, unease, violence and the supernatural are far greater here; and there’s an added touch of delicious lurid colour in some of cinematographer Nyika Jancso’s (son of famous director Miklos Jancso) exquisite shots.

Laurin makes you realise how clichéd most film are that go for the gothic vibe. They depend on the audience recognising a limited set of formal effects as if from the outside, looking in. Laurin does something different: by seeing things through her young eyes, a fresh world of unease and threat builds before us. The gothic effects are there, but they appear to arise through this natural vision. This is also a world that uses real locations to great effect – again, a tip of the hat to Herzog? – to suggest that the gothic is grounded in natural spaces and grimy reality.

German co-writer/ director Sigl filmed in Hungary with a Hungarian cast and crew, which is probably the indirect reason that there’s both an English and a German dub on offer here.

Laurin is out on region-free Blu-ray from 3 April 2023, released by Second Run.