Tribeca 2024 Review: THE DAMNED, Chilling Historical Horror (Pun Intended)

Odessa Young and Joe Cole star in an atmospheric horror thriller, directed by Thordur Palsson.

Contributing Writer
Tribeca 2024 Review: THE DAMNED, Chilling Historical Horror (Pun Intended)

In a small village in 19th century Iceland, a group of fishermen, led by Eva (Odessa Young) ever since her husband died, are struggling to survive.

While their food supplies are drying out, the men still hope for a change of luck. And it does change – for the worse. One day, they witness a shipwreck and are forced to make a choice: either do the right thing and risk their lives trying to help the strangers, or play it safe.

The men fight about what they should do, but the decision is ultimately Eva’s, and she reluctantly makes it. In the aftermath, the group is soon faced with strange occurrences which, despite Eva’s and most of the men’s protestations, might not be easily rationalized.

The Damned – not to be confused with Roberto Minervini’s period drama by the same name that has just premiered at the Cannes Film Festival – is the feature debut of Icelandic author Thordur Palsson, the creator of The Valhalla Murders TV series. As far as debut projects go, this one is very promising.

The setting obviously does a lot of work, as you generally cannot go too wrong with perpetual frost, relentless wind, lots of snow and darkness. Palsson manages to capitalize on this already advantageous aesthetics though, presenting the cold world of the village as full of contradictions.

One minute it almost looks like a toy model or a painting. The next - the screen is filled with physicality and naturalistic details (arguably the most disturbing scene here has nothing to do with the paranormal at all). This duality continues when creepy things start happening, and all the while there is a great sense of ambiguity about whether something supernatural is really out to get the poor fishermen, or if it is all in their heads as an understandable psychological result of isolation, desperation, guilt and general paranoia.

This is a dark world with very few flashes of color that don't really bring any comfort. The stunning cinematography by Eli Arenson (Lamb, Trapped, The Watchers) is supported by no less impressive and immersive sound design that leads us, along with the characters, into the heart of darkness.

We don’t know much about these people, even Eva, but the actors' effort carry us through. Rory McCann delivers his usual grandiose onscreen presence and Joe Cole gives a nuanced performance, where he says a lot without actually doing so. But it’s Odessa Young who really carries the story, grounding it and giving it the needed emotional resonance.

The Damned is not the most original film, both in its premise and execution as you can find hints of The Terror, The Lodge and Robert Eggers’s works here, and when a character stands in the snow proclaiming that there is evil among them, it’s hard not to think about The Thing. The authors are aware of it though, and the film does this nice thing when it doesn’t pretend to be bigger than it actually is.

Its resolution might not be the most surprising, but it plays well into the overarching theme. Just like it doesn’t take much for a human psyche to start breaking down, it doesn’t really take much to get invested in a movie these days – some impressively lit snow and Carpenter references might do the trick.

The film enjoys its world premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival. It screens again on Wednesday, June 12. 

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Joe ColeOdessa YoungThordur PalssonTribeca 2024Tribeca Fest 2024

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