dir. Jacques Molitor
The horror genre has long provided a framework for the exploration of social issues. In the case of Kommunioun (also known somewhat spoilery as Wolfkin) director Jacques Molitor interweaves various themes including puberty, privilege and parenting. These are explored to different extents in a precise and even delicate way that ensures no point is over-emphasised, and perhaps more importantly the politics never overpower the story or characters.
We begin with an intimate scene between two lovers that culminates in abandonment, and the fear of loss subsequently informs the whole film. Elaine (Louise Manteau) is a single mother raising her son Martin (Victor Dieu) in Brussels, who is developing aggressive behaviour. After a biting incident at school leads to concerns that this behaviour will escalate, Elaine takes Martin to visit the family of his father in Luxembourg. The immensely wealthy Joseph (Marco Lorenzini) and Adrienne (Marja-Leena Junker) welcome their grandson into their home and traditions, but this does little to allay Elaine’s concerns.
Martin’s struggles can easily be read as puberty run wild, but what sells the film beyond this fairly straightforward conceit is the convincing relationship between mother and son. Manteau and Dieu are superb, conveying warmth and affection as well as a relatable sense of frustration. Dieu paradoxically conveys the inexpressiveness of adolescence, unable to explicate what he feels while being equally unable to escape it. Moments of tension between the two are framed through doorways, emphasising both a fear of domestic spaces but also the widening gap between Martin and Elaine as the boy grows beyond his mother’s understanding.
The intimate framing at home is contrasted with the vast expanses of the family mansion and grounds, where privilege is presented in a way reminiscent of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As with that film Kommunioun largely takes place in a self-contained estate where the wealthy only make connections to the outside world that they deign worthy of their attention.
The film’s title too proves a double entendre as Martin is drawn into his grandparents’ community whilst also developing a sympathy for the Catholic faith, despite his mother’s protestations. Other practices of the grandparents may teach Martin lessons, but these only make Elaine more afraid as she comes to realise the elitist perspective of her ex-partner’s family. Immigrants come in for particular contempt, with exploitation taking on a more disturbing meaning when Joseph – along with Uncle Jean (Jules Werner) – teach Martin to hunt. Equally disturbing is Jean’s treatment of his wife Tatiana (Yulia Chernyshkova), a Russian immigrant seemingly brought into the family for breeding. An interchange between Jean, Tatiana and Elaine leads to recriminations and a satisfying strike to the family jewels, but the creepiness of the scenario remains, especially once Elaine learns how the grandparents implement discipline.
Amidst this escalating dread are outbursts of violence, leading to bloodshed and wince-inducing body horror. The gore is brutally graphic, including some extreme throat trauma. However throughout the fear and shocks the exploration of parenting remains, Elaine’s dedication to her son clashing with the expectations of the grandparents in a way which feels disturbingly familiar.
If in its final act the film is slightly rushed and confusing this is made up for with a coda that loops back to the opening – tinged beautifully with melancholia – and concludes on a note that is both touching and hopeful.
Although echoing touchstones as diverse as Teen Wolf, Raw, Society and Get Out, Kommunioun is a fresh, potent and poignant portrait of puberty, privilege and parenting, offering an interesting examination of consumption and a genuinely human heart. Far more than a shaggy dog story.
© Dr. Vincent M. Gaine