Today, Cody finds it hard to say much about 1968's Hour of the Wolf/Vargtimmen.
Over the course of a writing and directing career that spanned over sixty years and resulted in over sixty movies, Hour of the Wolf is the only film from Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman that's considered to be in the horror genre. Really, it's a film that's hard to classify by genre. More than a horror movie or a thriller or a psychological drama, it's an art film.
Bergman presents the film as the true story of his missing and presumed dead friend, painter Johan Borg, based on the account of his wife Alma and the diary that he left behind. Johan was a very troubled man, distressed by visitations from people who he thought were actually demons, people that range from harmless to disturbing, like an old woman whose face comes off when she removes her hat, or potentially dangerous, like the bird man and the spider man. There's the schoolteacher with the pointer in his pants, the cannibals, the insects, "and all those chattering women".
Johan becomes especially scared of the demons during the nighttime, when he can't bring himself to sleep during "the hour of the wolf", the time just before dawn, when nightmares come, when the most people die and most children are born.
There is uncertainty whether the demons exist or if Johan is insane, but Alma believes him, is there for him, sits with him through the sleepless hours, and begins to see the demons herself. My favorite moment in the film is when Alma is visited by a kindly but odd old woman who wears a hat and slips up by giving her age as 216 years old, before correcting herself and saying 76.
As things get darker, weirder, and more troubling, the most dangerous place for Johan may prove to be the neighboring castle, with its very strange residents.
It's a hard movie to write about, and it's a hard movie to recommend. It's not something that the average viewer is going to get satisfaction from if they start watching it just to get a horror fix. It's for the arthouse crowd, people who want to bask in the awe of its black and white photography and pick apart its story, symbolism and characters.
The cinematography is beautiful, Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow deliver great performances in the lead roles, and there are some really effective scenes, but most of the film holds very little interest for me personally. I've sat through the movie three times now but have never been able to connect to it, I'm just not the audience for it, but there are viewers who would be (and have been) totally blown away by it.