Spoor movie review: This Polish film is a cocktail of genres marred by director's overindulgence
We have seen quirky black comedies, we have seen murder mysteries, we have seen tongue-in-cheek B films as well as serious vigilante drama thrillers. Now thanks to the Polish film Spoor, we get to see a film that is a bizarre combination of all of those things.
Spoor is Poland’s entry to the 90th Academy Awards and it is easy to understand why. The film takes a hard environment-friendly stand under the guise of a whodunit, so hard in fact that it sometimes feels like director Agnieszka Holland is overdoing it. Revealing any more would be taking the fun away from first time viewers so you are advised to watch this film without reading or seeing too much about it.
The film opens with a tremendous drone shot of an icy Polish valley, ending at a little corner illuminated by the lights of cop cars and the murmurs of a group of panicked people. It’s clear what has happened – a murder has taken place.
We’re then quickly introduced to Janina (Agnieszka Mandat), a sweet old lady in the little village where the murder has happened. Janina is a teacher and a part time psychic, and is also a bit bonkers. Her students like her for her strangeness but the local male hunters do not much take to her for her obsessive love for animals. Things take quite a turn when her dogs vanish one day and her neighbor turns up dead. The murder naturally seems connected to the other killings in the town and it seems like the work of a serial killer on the loose. The strange part, however, is the tracks left around the crime scene, which look like those made by an animal.
Things are pretty interesting in the first hour or so as we follow Janina trying to uncover what is happening. As she meets more people, the layers are slowly peeled off, her psychic abilities revealing the true nature of some nice people in the town. The interesting element is the execution, which mixes the absurd and the serious, a combo which may not rhyme with everyone. Every time one expects the investigation to carve a new inroad, the film takes a detour into some bizarre activity Janina is involved in, which could seem irritatingly disconnected to the central mystery.
There is a detective story at the heart but it is surrounded by so much quirk and oddball aesthetics, it distracts more than it entertains. Dirk Gently would be a good comparison but that show incorporated the tone in a far more accomplished manner whereas this film does feel more indulgent than it should be.
The social commentary, of course, is at the forefront but its connection to the ultimate reveal could have been more subtly executed. There’s some magic realism stuff too, which largely works, making Spoor feel like a love child of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple’s adventures and a National Geographic special.
The breathtaking Polish locations help enhance the excellent cinematography and Mandat’s performance is arresting. And even though the film is not as deep and powerful as director Holland wants you to believe it is, it is still a fun, weird romp; an indie experiment on a mainstream scale.
With lines like ‘mushroom picking in the forest is the only thing that brings Polish lovers together’, the film may be making a statement about Poland which is lost on audiences of other countries. But given the tone of the film, one can never be sure if that is reading too much into something that does not exist. Perhaps the killer knows.