If you’re sick of finding pandemic parallels in everything, no need to worry about Péter Bergendy’s period horror “Post Mortem,” the Hungarian Oscar entry. It manages to avoid saying anything about our current moment despite being set during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918, when that virus was well on its way to killing 50 million people globally. Worry instead that, as good as it looks with its fun special effects and promisingly creepy premise, this oddly un-scary ghost story is going to devolve into a hopeless muddle: Can a horror-movie village ever just be too haunted? It would seem it can.
There is a clever idea nestled in the film’s bleak setting, however. At the end of the then-unprecedented loss of life occasioned by the Great War, with a pandemic raging, it’s quite believable that unquiet spirit activity might be at an all-time high. The constant death rate is certainly enough to keep ex-soldier Tomás (Viktor Klem) in business as a post-mortem photographer, who takes painstakingly primped and posed shots of the recently deceased, so their relatives can have a keepsake.
That unflappable Tomás is not squeamish about touching, and in some cases prying, the rigor mortis-ed limbs of his dead sitters into position, is perhaps because he himself has had a brush with the beyond. He’d been left for dead on the battlefield, when a vision of a young girl brought him back and he was plucked from the heap of corpses by an older soldier (Gábor Reviczky).
Six months later, Tomás and the soldier are part of a traveling carnival, in which the old man embellishes Tomás’ afterlife experience to tell to rapt audiences, while next door, the younger man plies his ghoulish trade. Then Anna (Fruzsina Hais) shows up, and suddenly Tomás is being asked to come to her hamlet by the town elders, in order to photograph the many corpses that are still awaiting burial there, given the ground is frozen solid. Tomás agrees, but mainly because Anna is, of course, the girl from his vision.
It’s frankly a weird relationship. The strapping foreign photographer and the 10-year-old orphan girl interact in unsettling ways that do not seem intentional but are perhaps a by-product of clunky, misjudged storytelling and some rather wooden performances. As if to try to dismiss any potential inappropriateness, a sort of love interest is hastily ginned up in Marcsa (Judit Schell), the widow with whom Tomás stays while in the village, but it’s undernourished and barely convincing, especially when so many of Tomás and Anna’s scenes have a peculiar undercurrent that can only really be described as romantic. Thankfully, though, there isn’t too much dwelling on such matters as pretty soon Tomas’ photos are picking up ghostly shadows skimming across the walls, weird noises ring out at night and the fingers on the town’s many corpses begin to twitch.
This place has been beset by ghosts for some time to the point that some townspeople wear scarecrow sacks over their heads as protection. And the supernatural activity only increases with Tomas’ arrival. Soon he and Anna, like the Ghostbusters of WWI-era Hungary, are investigating the many strange somethings in the neighborhood: levitations, reanimations, mysterious water sluicing down walls, scorchmarks on the chests of the dead and the actual murder-by-ghost of an elderly neighbor who is for some reason stuffed up her own chimney.
DP András Nagy’s crisply composed photography goes some way toward classing up the silliness, more so anyway than the generic descending string drones of Atti Pacsay’s horror-by-numbers score. And the special effects, especially those on the lo-fi end, work well: There’s a nice line in finding new ways for a body to bend, so that people turn briefly into ragdolls to be grotesquely flung around by malevolent whatsits. But after a while, even the best-rendered poltergeist sequence becomes humdrum if there’s no sense that we’re ever going to understand why these spirits are acting this way — except because it looks cool.
At times, the overkill provides unintentional comedy, as when four characters have simultaneous separate violent hauntings in different parts of the same house. Or when some poor background unfortunate is staggering around on fire between houses from which unseen forces drag people out like they’re the excessive runtime of this ultimately wearisome movie.
It all comes down to a lack of atmosphere, despite the evident investment in scrupulous production design. Perhaps that scrupulousness is part of the problem: Along with Tomás’ distractingly modern haircut, it’s the very precision of the period detailing that makes “Post Mortem” feel like a tourist-theme-park vision of the past. And even a town overrun by the dead should feel more alive than this one.
Former HBO Exec Len Amato Joins MasterClass as Chief Content Officer
Len Amato, a 13-year veteran of HBO, joined MasterClass as chief content officer at the company that sells subscriptions to celebrity-led online courses.
In the new role, Amato will head up MasterClass’ content organization and help lead content innovation, strategy and development of class launches. He reports to David Rogier, founder and CEO of MasterClass.
Amato formerly served as president of HBO Films, Miniseries and Cinemax before he departed in late 2020. Most recently, Amato was an executive producer on HBO’s upcoming limited series “The White House Plumbers” through his production company Crash&Salvage, where he will continue to produce independently.
MasterClass provides access to more than 150 online courses led by experts and celebs including James Cameron, Shonda Rhimes, Ken Burns, Jodie Foster, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Nas, Gordon Ramsay, Bob Iger, Metallica, Issa Rae, RuPaul, and Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. An annual membership to MasterClass starts at $180/year.
“Len has been a pioneer in creating premium, original content, and I’m thrilled to welcome him to the team,” Rogier said in a statement. “His passion for storytelling, proven leadership and ability to attract talent will help us expand and innovate, providing even more ways to transform our members’ lives through our content.”
“MasterClass is setting a new standard for premium content with its cinematic value and ability to intimately connect world-class instructors with its members,” Amato said. “I’m excited to continue to democratize learning by bringing these stories to life in new ways and scale the impact of our content.”
Amato joined HBO in 2007 as a senior VP and was promoted to president of HBO Films the following year. Under his leadership, HBO Films earned best television movie Emmys for originals including “Grey Gardens,” “Temple Grandin,” “Game Change, “Behind the Candelabra,” “The Normal Heart” and “Bessie.”
Prior to joining HBO, Amato served as president of Spring Creek Productions. His producer and executive producer credits include “Analyze This” and “Analyze That,” “Possession,” “Deliver Us From Eva,” “Rumor Has It,” “Blood Diamond” and “The Astronaut Farmer.” Amato also was story editor for Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Productions. He started his film career in New York as a story analyst for various independent producers and studios. Prior to his career in the film industry, Amato was a musician and actor.
Music Industry Moves: FKA Twigs Partners With Atlantic Records
Along with her “Caprisongs” mixtape on Friday came the news that FKA Twigs has “partnered with Atlantic Records for this next exciting phase of her art,” according to the announcement. In the U.K., she will continue to release music via the Young label (formerly Young Turks) through Beggars Group.
“FKA twigs is the kind of artist you dream of signing — one with truly original vision, voice, and presence,” said Atlantic chairman-COO Julie Greenwald. “She’s among the most compelling talents, always pushing her creative envelope to deliver emotionally honest music that’s both intensely personal and universal. We’re thrilled that she’s chosen Atlantic to be her home as she continues on her fantastic musical adventure.”
“The progression of FKA twigs’ music over the past decade has been extraordinary,” said chairman-CEO Craig Kallman. “She’s never content to stay in one place – constantly crossing musical boundaries, embracing fresh sounds, telling new stories, and exploring what’s next. An amazing vocalist, songwriter, lyricist, and producer, she’s barely scratched the surface of her potential, and we’re incredibly excited to see what she’ll be bringing her fans in the years to come.”
+ Artist-services company AWAL has promoted Jennifer Kirell to senior vice president of catalog & retail marketing. Based in New York, she will report directly to Ron Cerrito, president of AWAL North America, and oversee and support artist and label partners. Prior to joining AWAL, Kirell spent 11 years with Sony Music Entertainment at Legacy Recordings, where she led global marketing campaigns and audience development strategies for artists including Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Johnny Cash and others. Cerrito said, “Jennifer is a goal minded, follow-through obsessed, results oriented, serial over achiever with a deep understanding of modern music marketing. She is also a thoughtful leader and people manager. We are proud Jen is a member of our executive team and look forward to continuing to redefine catalog and retail marketing into the future.”
The 2021 deal that saw Kobalt selling AWAL to Sony for $430 million remains under review by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority.
+ RCA Records has named Alex John director of publicity. She joins after two years at Red Bull Records, where she worked with Blxst, the Aces and producer WondaGurl. Over the course of her seven years in the business has also worked for Listen Up (where she worked with Martin Solveig, Kevin Saunderson, Jamie Jones and others), FYI Brand Group (Jhené Aiko, Tyga, DJ Khaled) and M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment (Sprite, Coca-Cola, WAV Media).