Nymph (Mamula) (2014)

Review first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

In making his second feature Nymph (Mamula), director Milan Todorovic (Zone of the Dead) was granted access to a fortified islet located at the entrance to Montenegro’s Boka Kotorska bay. Built by an Austro-Hungarian general in the middle of the nineteenth century, the fort of Mamula (which gives this film its Serbian title) has remained intact through two World Wars and later conflict in the Yugoslavian region – and was even converted by Mussolini’s fascist forces into a concentration camp notorious for vicious torture. So this is a historically resonant site that also just happens to be very picturesque.

All of which ought to make Mamula the perfect site for an investigation (through genre) of real 20th century horror – but Todorovic has opted instead for dumb-assed stalk and slash on the model of I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), here expressly referenced, as a group of five sexed-up, party-happy young things, both American and local, find their holiday adventure – and jealous squabbling – interrupted by an implacable boatman (Miodrag Krstovic) armed with a sharpened anchor and buckets that he wants to fill with human meat.

In fact, Nymph‘s narrative will turn out to be as biform as the monstrous aquatic creature (Zorann Kostic Obradovic) that emerges fully only in its second half – but that leads merely to more frantic running about, as the film is repeatedly harpooned on its own clichés. Most curious is the presence of the great Franco Nero, present presumably to lend a certain gravitas to an otherwise empty genre exercise. “Who was that guy?”, hydrophobic final girl Kelly (Kristina Klebe) will ask after Nero shows up in an outdoor bar to deliver his old man’s warning ® about Mamula as well as some mumbled lines from Homer’s Odyssey on the monstrous Scylla. “Nobody”, Boban (Dragan Micanovic) will reply – a word that simultaneously evokes Odysseus (who famously tells the Cyclops his name is ‘Nobody’) and the type of man-with-no-name that Nero has played in countless spaghetti westerns. Nero’s true rôle here, though, is as grand expositor, turning up again near the end to cram the film’s entire dreary backstory into a couple of overlong speeches which reduce any tension that the film has managed to build.

Maybe this is being a bit unfair. Maybe the Siren/Scylla/Mermaid mash-up here, the likes of which has not been seen since Stuart Gordon’s Dagon (2001) – or Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) – is an allegorisation of the fascism latent in Serbian society (and preserved by mad old men) that occasionally resurfaces as a Siren song to impressionable male youth. Maybe – but the problem is that all this is drowned out by perfunctory dialogue, poor pacing, and cardboard cut-out (not to mention annoying) characters. Still, the underwater photography is excellent.

Anton Bitel