DAY OF WRATH (1943)

A review of an obscure indie film (courtesy of HuluPlus’ choice selection of films from the Criterion Collection), some film history & Eric Michael Kochmer. Read on to find out why indie filmmakers should care. Every #TBT.

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DAY OF WRATH directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer (100 mins)Since it’s October, I thought I would find some disturbing horror films or just disturbing films that could fit into the horror genre. Of course, your local hipster will be suspicious of these obscure titles.

To me the real horror in horror films all has to do with the amount of the suggestion in the story. How strong is the suggestion? What are the circumstances? How is someone going to die? What are the details? Take away the actual demise – what terrifies my mind is those details. This is where Carl Theodor Dreyer comes in.

If anyone was going to be considered equal or greater than Orson Welles, it would have to be this Danish genius. After starting off his career in the silent era in 1919, directing nine films in less than ten years and establishing himself as a talent equal to his contemporary’s with his first masterpiece “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1927), Dreyer then only made one feature film a decade (give or take a few shorts and documentaries) until his death in 1968. Because of his scattershot filmmaking existence, for a living, he alternated from journalist to movie theater owner and professor.

Day of Wrath (1943)Even more interesting are his most important films: “Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928), “Vampyr” (1932), “Day of Wrath” (1943), “Ordet” (1955) and “Gertude” (1964). These were all commercial failures and some critical disasters. Upon release, his films were criticized for overly long takes and an overbearing focus on reality. Mostly they were just called boring. The reason why his films were probably getting attacked as boring were more or less because they were trendsetting. Each of his masterworks dictated the next few years of innovation in film. All of his work possess a heavy emphasis on composition including a provocative approach to directing actors.

“Day of Wrath” (1943) was Dreyer’s first film in Denmark since 1926 and was made during the Nazi occupation. The film is set during the 17th century Danish witch trials and the subject matter and shooting conditions were rather fitting. The story centers around a beautiful young woman married to an older priest who has saved her mother from burning at the stake. The older priest’s mother lives with them and begins growing suspicious of the young wife when the priest’s eldest son returns home. He’s handsome … she’s gorgeous in that 17th century hot blonde woman way … her husband’s mother doesn’t like her out of spite and people are being burned at the stake almost daily … you probably see where its going.

I don’t want to give away to much of the story but what I will say is, Dryer’s focus on desperation before death is so difficult to watch … not some heroic repentance which is usually the case … but honest-to-goodness unbelievable fear before the inevitable. It’s probably one of the most horrifying films I’ve ever seen. Not boring.