An esoteric satire offering that can’t differentiate between its themes, resulting in a directionless tour of a hellish hospital.
Synopsis: Three women mysteriously wake up in a hospital and discover that one of them is deaf, one is mute and the other one is blind; together they will have to figure out why they are there and how to get out.
I’m not entirely sure that without the above synopsis I would have realised that the three victims in this were meant to have awoken with different afflictions. Forgiveness, though divided into chapters to explore each girl’s experience is largely dialogue-free, meaning that them being deaf or mute hardly seems to matter much in the grand scheme of things. Further to this, it means you’re presented with a film that is, at least on some level painting a damning portrait of misogyny and the cyclical impact of patriarchal abuse but that ensures none of its central female characters are given a voice at all. The result is an experience of watching them stumble into a variety of ever more hellish situations with no real concept of who they are which hardly adds up to a fulfilling viewing experience.
This is frustrating for obvious reasons, but also because the film itself is technically proficient and there are a few sparks of ideas that hint at something more purposeful, or at least something with a more distinct identity. A sequence set around a dance displays director Alex Kahuam’s eye for creating surreal and arguably beautiful moments within a horror context. Situating the bulk of the film within the hospital allows for the switching up of lighting to produce different effects and builds dread as to what awaits the women in each section.
The construction of the nightmarish set pieces are well achieved, although some will find elements distasteful. This brings me to another issue with the film – there’s relatively little palatable going on within the film, but it never quite reaches the unpleasantness of so-called extreme cinema, leaving it in purgatory – too nasty for mainstream viewers, not challenging enough for those testing their boundaries. This, coupled with a message that is writ large across the film ends up feeling hollow as a result.
Lengthy pauses and transitions make the short runtime feel much longer, especially as there are no real characterisations to cling to. Extended periods of walking from room to room results in a drawn-out pace that fails to add any tension or meaning. The choice to present the majority of the film without dialogue is admirable, placing all the focus on the construction of the visuals, but with so little else to connect with, it is a hard sell. The runtime isn’t particularly long, but those pauses and the near-endless abuse of the main characters lengthen it considerably.
It is clear that there is meaning within the film, but unfortunately that meaning can’t overcome the presentation and pacing issues that make it a slow, frustrating and ultimately alienating watch.
1.5 out of 5 stars
Forgiveness plays as part of Grimmfest 2021. See the Grimmfest page for more information.