MotelX 2020 Review: ICH-CHI, Reality Bending Mystical Horror From Indigenous Russia
A Yakut family run an isolated farm in the Republic of Sakha, the largest region in Russia, but also the most inhospitable. Tensions are on the rise when one of their sons returns home with his wife and child, begging his parents to sell the farm to help him pay off a debt. Meanwhile, their father has unwittingly unearthed an evil presence buried on the property. With tensions already on the rise what will tear this family apart first, the crumbling relationships or this impending evil presence?
Ich-Chi is a mystical horror and the sophomore film by local, Yakut filmmaker Kostas Marsan, and in only his second film Marsan is proving to be a clever one. Without you really knowing it he used his opening act to prepare for the bending of reality he will do once evil has set upon the family. You will still be doing mental gymnastics as he swings from one reality to the next during the final act but if you look back, hint, if you 'reflect' on his shot set up and the art design you see he's been quietly setting up the layers of reality he is about to take this family through.
Ich-Chi is a lot like what Brian Bertino has done with his new film The Dark & The Wicked. Both are set in a rural and isoalted setting. Both have family dynamics that are stretched thin or put to the test. Both have solid set ups and scares in them. Marsan has studied the horror playbook and uses common tools like string tension to amp up even the most benile moments.
Ich-Chi's catalyst is something similar to that of what happens in Marcin Wrona's 2015 film Deamon. But that is not to question whether it is authentic or not. It very well may be rooted in Yakut culture or folklore. It's there, it happened, now the family has to deal with it.
Where Marsan seperates his film from there is where it delves into rural and indigenous mysticism instead of outright demonism as in Bertino or Wrona's films. Marsan's film is also prettier, art house even, endevouring to capture beautiful images and snap shots in the terror.
Then there is the mulitple layers of reality as the film ramps up the terror and the scares. No false endings here just nothing is what it seems and do not trust your eyes because Marsan will change it up faster than you can blink.
Boil it all down and we can see Marsan is a learned student of horror cinema; with Ich-Chi he has earned more than the passing grade.
We all know that indigenous cinema is an area that needs more growth and support. Ich-Chi is one of the few horror films, if not genre films, produced in the Republic of Sakha in Russia. When one is asked to think about Russia we automatically think of the people from European Russia but the Russian State has over one hundred and eighty-five ethnic groups.
Then you look to former states like Khazakhstan where the films of Adilkhan Yerzhanov, A Dark, Dark Man or Atbai's Fight, are opening our eyes to more genre cinema casting indigenous peoples. We hope with Marsan and this new horror film, along with his first film, crime thriller, My Killer, that he is becoming one of a hopeful many avenues for indigenous peoples to be represented in genre cinema.
It's out there. There's not enough yet, but it's happening.