Dark Souls (Mørke sjeler) (2010)

Dark Souls first published by

Out for a jog in the woods, young Johanna Ravn (Johanna Gustavsson) is attacked by a Driller Killer (Kristian Holter) in an orange jumpsuit and surgical mask, and is left lying dead in the mud with a hole bored through her skull. Yet if this opening to Dark Souls (Mørke sjeler) suggests the all-too-familiar scenario of a slasher or psychothriller, co-writers/co-directors César Ducasse and Mathieu Peteul deploy clichés only to confound them, making up for their obvious low budget with an increasingly madcap blurring of different subgenres. 

When bumbling detective Richard Akestad (Kyrre Haugen Sydness) calls Johanna’s father Morten (Morten Rudå) to inform him of the tragic incident, the mild-mannered and rather surprised music teacher insists that the policeman must be mistaken, given that Johanna has just come home. Johanna, you see, is only mostly dead – deceased enough to have been declared so by the police on the scene and by an attendant working in the morgue, but alive enough to get up and walk out. She is, however, mute and near catatonic, and keeps vomiting a viscous black material that a doctor identifies as a hydrocarbon. As the weeks pass, others are similarly attacked with drills, and the clueless Richard is no closer to finding the ‘serial killer’ who is terrorising and transforming the Oslo populace into bile-spewing zombies. Morten, however, who is dutifully nursing his daughter despite the increasing hopelessness of her condition, begins his own amateur investigation, determined to find out who – and what – is behind these bizarre attacks.

The ensuing narrative falls – impossibly – somewhere between the healthcare horror of Keith Wright’s Harold’s Going Stiff (2011) and the uniformly dressed killers of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987) – and everything is undercut by a humour as dark as the ichor that flows freely from the victims’ orifices. Morten’s refusal to let his daughter waste away in a hospital may represent an admirable form of paternal devotion, and may strike a chord with anyone who has ever had to look after a loved one long term – but its seriousness is undermined by the sight, played strictly for laughs, of an unattended Johanna falling face-first into a plate of potatoes. By the time Morten has infiltrated the factory where a strange cabal of men in overalls is executing its never fully explained conspiracy, Dark Souls plays itself out like a silent comedy, with speechless characters and gestural performances all modulated by a jaunty piano accompaniment.

Somewhere in there is an allegory about the way that oil is the hidden lifeblood of Norway’s economy and culture – but like everything else in Dark Souls, this idea is only half articulated, and in the end spills out messily.

Summary: Dark Souls’ apocalypse of banality plays fast and loose with its generic identity, but is ultimately rotten.

© Anton Bitel