dir. Travis Stevens
At an auction house an ancient sculpture is up for sale, depicting three female spirits laying waste to a man for his transgressions as a thief and a murderer. The auctioneer explains its mythological significance, though this gruesome tableaux also acts as an allegorical treatise for Travis Steven’s latest film which trades richly in ideas of female vengeance against the millennia old injustices of patriarchal oppression and how this battle might be worked out in the arts.
For just as this sculpture from the prologue becomes emblematic of what is to follow, the very texture of Steven’s films calls back to bygone artistic expression. Just as with Ti West’s The House of the Devil (2009) so too Fawn has a weathered texture to its colour grading, with celluloid scratches flashing up periodically as if the film were a forgotten 70s classic shot on 16mm. The plot also – which sees a serial killer welcome his latest would-be victim to his cabin in the woods – smacks of the heyday of American exploitation films.
A sharp script, excellent central performances and painterly cinematography would have been enough, but where Stevens takes the film in its second act brings it to a whole another level. Traditional tropes of nihilistic violence start to buckle and give way to fantastical flights, where – much like that opening sculpture – impressionistic images, rich in exhilarating / terrifying meaning – erupt onto screen.
Whether audiences go with this trip will no doubt vary, but those who succumb to its lurid, hypnogogic influence are in for a beautifully rendered, phantasmagorical catharsis.
© Tim Coleman