It’s serendipitous timing that I happen to be writing this review the day after Jason Blum made a totally outlandish statement (which he did issue an apology for, to be fair) that not enough women want to direct horror movies, so that’s why he didn’t hire any. That statement is laughable enough, because it’s simply untrue. There have been many great horror directors who are women. There’s Jennifer Lynch (Boxing Helena), Jenn Wexler (The Ranger), Leigh Janiak (Honeymoon), Karyn Kusama (The Invitation), and countless more. Another woman to add the list is Isabel Eklof, director of the new film HOLIDAY. Two women, Eklof and Johanne Algren, also wrote the screenplay for HOLIDAY. So, obviously, Jason Blum made a major misstep with that statement and I hope he ends up hiring a ton of women directors now to make up for it, but we’ll see.
Now, back to HOLIDAY. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the film, I was mostly just drawn in by the poster and the fact it was written and directed by women. I am so glad that I saw it because this is one of the rawest and brutal in your face assaults on the patriarchy and toxic masculinity I have ever seen. The way that Eklof goes about telling this story is quite disturbing and is going to anger many people. In fact, when I was at Syndicated Theater in Bushwick watching this film, at the end I heard someone say “Well that’s the last thing I needed to see today!” which is a reaction I understand 100% but I disagree. HOLIDAY is a parable and a cautionary tale. It exposes the worst of power and how that desire for power can cause us to do the worst things, or put up with the worst things being done to us.
The film centers on Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne, Teenage Jesus) a strikingly beautiful woman who just so happens to be the girlfriend of one of the biggest drug runners in Denmark, Michael (Danish TV star Lai Yde). She arrives in Bodrum, a tourist town on the Turkish Riviera, ahead of Michael and his friends. Eventually she meets up with them, but even before she does, she encounters brutality from one of Michael’s associates who is angry that she borrowed from Michael’s drug money to buy a pair of shoes.
Once she meets up with Michael, everything seems to be hunky dory, but only for a very short time. It doesn’t take long until we see the dark side of Michael. He treats Sascha like a piece of property and uses her in whatever ways he pleases. Sascha puts up with it because she feels like she is stuck. While on the trip she meets a nice man at the ice cream shop, Thomas (Thijs Romer, Family Way). She meets up with him a few times, as a means of psychological escape from Michael. She wants to feel normal and talk to a normal man who isn’t on a power trip. However, much like Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character Joe in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, Sascha discovers that all men are obsessed with power at their core.
It’s apt for me to make a comparison to a Lars Von Trier movie when discussing HOLIDAY. The film is certain to be controversial for it’s brutally violent depictions of sexual assault. There’s an incredibly disturbing scene that is on par with or even more fucked up than something that Von Trier or his fellow European provocateur Gaspar Noe could create. It’s absolutely not for the faint of heart and not something I expected to see in a movie in a theater. The one scene alone is enough to shake you to the core for the rest of the day, or maybe forever. I’m quite certain that some people would argue that the scene is unnecessary.
I’m not so sure. It could have been a little less graphic, but I think the point is to show exactly how much Sascha will go through to have her own power, which she thinks is being attached to the lavish lifestyle that Michael provides for her. It also shows the Stockholm syndrome that a lot of abuse victims experience when they truly love their partner. Michael is not always aggressively evil towards Sascha. He buys her nice jewelry and treats her like a princess half the time. I imagine that must be confusing for someone. It is also a commonality that a lot of domestic violence survivors share.
Another thing that is incredibly shocking and unexpected is the ending, which I didn’t see coming, but it sums up who Sascha and Michael are completely. The film pretends to have a happy ending, but only a crazy person would actually see it that way. I recommend this film to anyone who can handle extremely graphic violence with an incredible realness to it. I fear that people will be too disturbed by the violence to understand the message that the movie sends, which is basically—don’t be like these people. Have agency over yourself and don’t put up with any shit or you might end up in the same boat that Sascha ends up in at the end of the film.