(DVD and Digital; ARC ENTERTAINMENT/DREAMRUNNER PICTURES/MOUNTAIN FILMS (99 minutes/Rated R); 2014)
AUTUMN BLOOD is a very quiet, almost pastoral movie, filled with moments of unbelievable brutality, violence and pain. Beautifully filmed in the mountains around Tirol, Austria, the scenery is breathtaking and there is a sense that we may be watching a story set in the untamed wild west of the United States; the only things visible to place the movie in modern times are the vehicles, farm machinery and weaponry. The opening sequence of the film sets the stage as, six years earlier, a farming family’s lives are shattered when the father is killed by the mayor of the nearby village. The inference from what happens prior is that the mayor either raped the mother or they were having an affair. At any rate, the father is dead, leaving the mother to care for her two young children.
The movie shifts to the mother and her now sixteen year old daughter (played with an innocence that seems almost too real to be acting, by Sophie Lowe, an ethereal, waifish beauty who may be best known for her role as Alice in the television series, ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND) and ten year old son (Maximilian Harnisch), who hasn’t spoken a word since witnessing his father’s death. There’s a gentleness and a sense of idyllic contentment, or maybe it’s resignation to their lots in life… whatever it is, the mother does her best to give the children a good life.
The girl’s innocence is probably best displayed as she swims/bathes in a secluded pond; she lays, drying on the rocks, completely at one with her surroundings. As she lay there one morning, dreaming, a hunter (the mayor’s son, played by Samuel Vauramo) breaks her reverie. Totally unaffected and unashamed, she doesn’t try to cover herself. It isn’t until the man grabs her and bends in to kiss her that she begins to understand his intentions and tries to fight him off. Beaten and bloody, the girl eventually makes her way home. She is met by her brother who helps her into their house, where more heartache awaits. As the boy was doing chores around the farm and while the girl was being brutalized, their mother had finally succumbed to the loneliness (or guilt, as there are several clues that she was, in fact, somehow involved with the mayor), ending her own life (at least, that’s how I read the scene). As the girl cleanses her wounds and tries to wash away the rape, she makes the decision to quietly bury their mother and keep her death a secret so that she and her brother wouldn’t be taken from their home and, possibly, separated.
On a trip into town, the girl, still showing signs of the beating she took, is waited on by a caring banker who grows suspicious and calls a social worker to check on the family situation. The girl also encounters the mayor (a steely-eyed Peter Stormare) in the local church, as well as being intimidated by the town butcher (played with a sense of monstrous depravity by Gustaf Skarsgard), the hunter and another friend. Later that night, the three men pay the children a visit, threatening to kill the boy and, once again, forcing themselves upon the girl. The mayor suspects his son and the others are, at the very least, up to no good and, possibly, in far more trouble than he has the power to get them out of.
Now knowing of the mayor’s suspicions, the three decide to kill the only witnesses to their crimes. As the girl and her brother try to allude their would-be executioners, the film takes on a disturbing DELIVERENCE quality. Amidst the scenic backdrop of the Austrian countryside, the three stalk the siblings for the final third of the movie. As is always the case in such chase scenes, the villains are dispatched, one in a fairly standard fashion, the other two in less obvious ways. The chase sequence, which encompasses two days, is chilling, thrilling and nicely staged. I do, however, question the need for the girl to doff her clothing once she finds a suitable hiding place for the night; it just seems incongruous and more than a bit exploitive. If you’re paying close attention all the way through AUTUMN BLOOD, the final scene offers a little hint as to the relationship between the mother and the mayor and… I ain’t sayin’ no more. You’re going to have to connect the dots yourself.
As mentioned, the movie has some nudity, violence and two brutal rape scenes, so it has an R rating, though it seems that most teens (say, 12 and over) wouldn’t be too shocked or permanently damaged if they watched it, depending on their sensitivity to such things. I originally felt that the rapes would be dealbreakers for a majority of viewers but, the overall quality of the story eventually won me over. By the way, about those rape and nude scenes… Sophie Lowe was 21 years old when the film began shooting so, everything was above board and legal.