Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne) is a young woman who has found herself in a relationship with an older man, Michael (Lai Yde), who happens to have amassed a small fortune in his business interests that she is aware she can exploit if she puts up with his possessive ways and the behaviour of his family and friends. However, she is also aware that if she steps out of line, she will get slapped, and on a basic level understands she must endure a degree of abuse to keep her head above water and reap the benefits of being what is essentially a gangster's moll. That's right: Michael is a drug dealer on a fairly large scale, large enough to take Sasha and his coterie on a sunkissed vacation...
The director of Holiday was Isabella Eklöf, who had previously worked on films associated with John Ajvide Lindqvist, behind the scenes on Let the Right One In, and as a screenwriter on Border. This was a different kettle of fish, not a fantasy or horror movie, but more unsettling than many examples of that latter genre thanks to its blankly observant take on the morality of the well-off - we are in no doubt that it does not matter how you have made your money, if you have enough of it you're going to start treating people as if you wouldn't piss on them if they were on fire. Now, there are doubtless compassionate millionaires who would take issue with this savage portrayal.
But they are not part of this story; maybe it would have been even more powerful had Eklöf and her co-scripter Johanne Algren dispensed with the criminal background and made their characters supposedly law-abiding, but behind closed doors a different tale was to be told. They didn't, so Michael and his unlovely associates already have the sympathy of the audience diverted onto Sascha, who comes across like a lost little lamb being taken care of by a pride of lions, leading us to expect the worst. A waiting game develops, as we are increasingly anticipating the worst to be inflicted on the girl, and in a way, that is what comes to pass, but not quite in an expected way.
It is only in the final stages that we twig the brutalisation inflicted on Sascha has consequences for her personality that the typical victim narrative a male talent might have concocted for her does not necessarily apply to. Certainly she gets struck around the face a few more times, but the scene that gained the most attention was her rape halfway through the plot. She may have been raped before, and the manner she recovers her sunny composure the next day has you reflecting that this is not an isolated incident, and she has actually, chillingly, gotten used to being violated as a matter of course. There's a scene early on where she is drugged and placed on a bed, but the action cuts away to later on in the morning, leaving us concluding something terrible has happened to her. That contemplation as the credits roll is not easily dismissed.
What storyline there was unfolded as a series of stark beats, played out in the cold beauty of the Turkish resort the characters have arrived in. The camera did not get in too close, not even at the scenes that were intended as harrowing, leaving a clinical impression that perversely refused to allow the viewer to invest too strongly in Sascha's plight, a situation we would understand in the closing sequences. Seemingly banal scenes of funloving, like buying ice cream or visiting a waterpark, contained a menace that you did not really need to have seen the images of occasional abuse to perceive all was not well here. Yet Holiday was not cynical, exactly, it was creating a moral dilemma, just more in the audience than the characters - anyone wanting to see Sascha fight back was going to be shocked, as this was not a rape-revenge yarn in the mode of Coralie Fargeat's contemporary Revenge, it was instead a study of perseverance of a different kind, and not one that would be palatable to most. But this was all the better for it, refusing to be categorised. Music by Martin Dirkov.
[Holiday is now on VOD and Blu-ray, released by Anti-Worlds.]