[Brooklyn Horror Review] MOTHER SUPERIOR
MOTHER SUPERIOR l Brooklyn Horror
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and unleashed a tidal wave of states implementing draconian abortion laws and outright bans, I’ve been seeing a lot of adoptees taking to TikTok to discuss the parts about adoption that no one really talks about: the increased likelihood of being abused (particularly by one’s adoptive parents), the fact that, in many cases, adoption is comparable to “purchasing” a child (especially in the case of infant adoption), and the deep-seated trauma that adoptees often experience as a result of the adoption itself, especially if they don’t know their biological families.

Marie Alice Wolfszahn’s MOTHER SUPERIOR is centered on a young woman named Sigrun Fink (played by Isabella Händler) who is desperate for information about her biological family. Orphaned as a baby, Sigrun was never adopted and grew up in foster care. Now a young adult, she takes a job as an in-home nurse for the aging and ill Baroness Heidenreich (Inge Maux), who lives in an old, sprawling mansion on an isolated plot of land with her groundskeeper Otto (Jochen Nickel). After she moves in, she finds that the Baroness and Otto observe strange customs and she begins to experience unsettling visions and dreams. Still, she stays…and pokes around the house. Sigrun didn’t take this job by chance—she knows that the Baroness has information about her family. She isn’t leaving until she learns the truth.

The plot of MOTHER SUPERIOR takes several whiplash-inducing turns. We learn that the Baroness is part of a mystical, matriarchal pagan cult, which at first seems radical and cool as hell—after all, who doesn’t love matriarchal pagans? But then we learn that back in the ‘40s, the Baroness was the director of the birth center where Sigrun was born, and then we learn that the birth center was Nazi-run and for Aryan women. And that even though the Baroness’ group is pagan and women-centric, they also subscribe to the same ideology of racial purity and Aryan superiority that the Nazis do.

Also, Sigrun isn’t even actually a nurse. She’s in training to be an anesthesiologist. We can still love her though. Sigrun might be a liar, but she ain’t no Nazi.

MOTHER SUPERIOR is a captivating film, even before we’re introduced to the Baroness’ past. The cinematography, sets, and costumes are absolutely beautiful. The film takes place in the 1970s, but the Baroness’ mansion has past elements from decades—maybe even a century. The film is so visually interesting that it’s easy to get lost in it.

Beyond the camera work is the life force of the film: the cast. Isabella Händler endears herself to the audience from her first appearance and keeps us on the edge of our seats throughout. Händler’s performance has a quiet intensity and elicits so much empathy that we root for her the whole film, even when Sigrun’s choices are disastrous. She and Inge Maux play off each other perfectly. For her part, Maux’s Baroness is like something out of a fairy tale. Over the course of the film, she transforms from an eccentric and slightly batty old woman to someone who is genuinely terrifying. Händler and Maux are supported by Jochen Nickel, whose portrayal of Otto is simultaneously unsettling, creepy, and oddly charming.

This film can be categorized as horror fantasy; it’s also a meticulously crafted work of art. It challenges the audience to reckon with the fact that there’s a shadowy underside to everything, even things that seem benevolent and progressive. I was shocked to learn that MOTHER SUPERIOR is Marie Alice Wolfszahn’s debut as a director and writer of feature films and that this film is Isabella Händler’s first. What isn’t shocking is that MOTHER SUPERIOR won Best Feature and Wolfszahn won Best Director at Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. The awards are well-deserved—I can’t wait to see what Wolfszahn produces next.

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