LA Film Festival Review: TOWER. A BRIGHT DAY

Encountering a modern film that can be dissected and written about like a research paper or art history thesis is something I find to be enjoyable, but rare within the genre. To stumble across such a gem is always a treat, and Polish director Jagoda Szelc’s TOWER. A BRIGHT DAY prevails to be one of those films that can be tackled as such. It has a lot to offer, while giving nods to such greats (and personal favorites) as Rosemary’s Baby and even The Wicker Man (1973).

With her daughter Nina’s (Laila Hennessy) communion approaching, Mula (Anna Krotoska) and her family are visited by her unstable and estranged sister Kaja (Malgorzata Szczerbowska), who is actually Nina’s birth mother, and, with Mula’s strict instructions, is not to be revealed as such. Residing in the beautiful Polish countryside, Mula’s ever-rising suspicion towards her sister’s intentions rise and creep through the weeds and spread throughout the household, causing a chilling disturbance within their quiet little lives.

For a directorial debut that proves to be impressive, Szelc’s TOWER signals a cavity of layers just waiting to be dissected. It weighs heavy with metaphors and foreshadowing, paving a clean path for a very smart, yet mysterious synopsis. And a synopsis, I might add, that may not be appreciated or acknowledged by some during its first take. TOWER produces a lingering feeling of dread that swells slowly, and contains important elements that may be overlooked due to its casually-driven pace. This is not a force-fed story, but one that requires attention and a little detective work on your part to pick up on the subtle mood shifts and plot progressions, as it is in no rush to deliver the goods and reveal itself.

Many elements housed within this film fuse together to touch base on various themes, with a primary focus on the physical world. It is strangely spiritual, producing the majesty of nature through Pagan undertones. The aspect of Paganism is not jammed down your throat, but instead blooms naturally like the tall grass that cover the Polish hills. This concept allows the film to transcend within itself as the plot intends, creating a smart approach towards an already unique concept. It is beautiful, but mysteriously dark, representing the divine intentions of nature itself, and the powerful hold it can have on the human spirit.

The chosen locations play a major role here, as each attractively shot Polish landscape heightens both the beauty and combative dread that impends throughout the film. Shifts between tonality and time of day coincide the juxtaposing elements of the battle between Christianity and Heathenism, and the transcendence from Mula’s societally acceptable lifestyle to that of an unwillingly spiritual one. Production design elements such as these are key to producing the director’s desired tone in conjunction with the story, and Szelc’s approach is spot-on.

With subtle suspense, growing paranoia, and Paganistic whisperings, TOWER. A BRIGHT DAY is a film that has left me feeling transfixed and excited to view again. This film will be for some, but definitely not for others, as the pace and subtlety (alongside its vagueness) will lose the attention of specific audiences, leaving them bewildered and feeling questionable. But I implore everyone to give it at least a second watch to discover what lies below the surface of this horrifically whimsical little gem.

Abigail Braman
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