“Inspired by real events”, reads the text that opens The Other Side (Andra Sidan). The claim cannot be true, of course, unless you believe in the actual existence of shape-shifting, child-snatching demons – but what you will immediately notice in writing/directing team Tord Danielsson and Oskar Mellander’s feature debut (following their long careers in television) is the heavy influence of other films, especially J-horror, on a Swedish supernatural set-up.
When recently widowed Fredrik (Linus Wahlgren), his five-year-old son Lukas (Eddie Eriksson Dominguez) and Fredrik’s girlfriend Shirin (Dilan Gwyn) move into a modern new duplex out in the suburbs, only to discover that it shares a haunted history with the adjacent, uninhabited home, they go through a series of routines inspired by past chillers: already anxious about her adequacies as a replacement mother for Lukas, Shirin finds herself arriving late to pick him up from school like the insecure mother in Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water (2002), even as a presence makes itself known in their house with the same uncanny rattling sound that Kayako produced in Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on: The Grudge (2002), and Lukas’ ‘imaginary’ playmate soon starts asserting itself as a deadly rival to Shirin for the contested rôle of child carer, as in Andy Muschietti’s MAMA (2013).
“Can a dead person come back?”, Lukas asks Shirin. Left alone to watch over Lukas for most of the week while Fredrik works shifts in another town, Shirin responds carefully: “Is this about your mum?” Lukas insists that it is not – for he has in mind the child who had previously lived in his bedroom, and whom we saw in the film’s prologue being dragged off screaming by something terrifying. Yet Lukas, touched by death at a very young age and now having to accommodate a new mother without having quite let go of the old one, is not only playing with revenants but also working through psychological issues, and Shirin is right to discern a subtext to the little boy’s enquiry.
As its very title suggests, The Other Side is about reflections and doubles. The duplex in which it takes place comprises two adjoining homes, darkly mirroring the divisions within this family. One house is full of light, life and hope, the other is a place of shadows, death and despair – and the attic space that connects them is like a passageway between two worlds, with the traffic going in either direction. There may be a creature trying to take Lukas, but it is also a monstrous version of his departed mother, still laying claim to her son even as Shirin doubts the strength of her feelings – and Fredrik increasingly questions her suitability or even sanity – as a surrogate mother to a needy boy who feels as lonely and abandoned as the empty house next door.
So this home with its resident evil is a structure with two sides to every stor(e)y, and falls into a long tradition of haunted houses which allow a family’s intimate psychodramas to be played out as horror. Danielsson and Mellander manage the fraught interior atmosphere, the encroaching dread and the odd jolting fright very effectively, without ever losing sight of their Protean bogeyman’s value as a metaphor. For here, as the shifting embodiment of a painful past that insists on reemerging and reasserting itself in the present, this destructive spirit can easily, when faced with a fragile family dynamic, prove a real homewrecker – unless maternal love finds a way out of the darkness.
strap: Tord Danielsson and Oskar Mellander’s The Other Side lets a haunted duplex accommodate issues of mourning and maternity
© Anton Bitel