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  Earwig Ice Teeth Headache
Year: 2021
Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Stars: Paul Hilton, Romane Hemelaers, Romola Garai, Alex Lawther, Peter Van den Begin, Anastasia Robin, Marie Bos, Isabelle de Hertogh, Michael Pas, Martin Verset
Genre: Horror, Weirdo, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Sometime in the 20th Century, somewhere in Europe, there is a large country house where a man, Albert (Paul Hilton), and his charge, Mia (Romane Hemelaers), live. He must maintain the little girl's health by replacing her dental arrangement: she has no teeth and must have her mouth filled with teeth of ice, the water caught in a special contraption that is attached to each side of her face. Every so often someone will call to make sure there are no mishaps occurring and the treatment is going well, but this has been going on for so long that neither of them can barely recall when it started. Yet Albert is haunted by images of his childhood, and images of his lost love - how can this muted existence compare?

Not a film for those who like their plots cut and dried, Earwig was notable for being the first work in English by enigmatic (and difficult to pronounce) French director Lucile Hadzihalilovic after a series of equally strange, rudderless mysteries where you are invited to draw your own conclusions rather than have everything spelled out for you. Doubtless these are maddening to many a viewer, especially when you should not expect everything all wrapped up, but this was an experience like her other efforts, where you soaked in the sinister atmosphere and appreciated the crepuscular cinematography bringing all this to quasi-life. Really by this stage she was making films for her fans, or further than that, simply for herself.

Yet this was so vague, so handwavy about the details of what was going on beyond what we saw, that it was questionable how satisfying it was. There was a definite horror aspect to it, punctuated by two acts of horrible violence that provide Albert with a plot of sorts to compliment Mia's, but it was more the horror of a disturbing fairy tale before they had been bowdlerised by the well-meaning writers who cleaned up the darkest aspect of what people liked to entertain each other with for stories around the fire. "The Girl with the Teeth of Ice" even sounds like a fairy tale, though this was based on an experimental novel by Brian Catling rather than some venerated myth or legend - perhaps its setting in the mid-1900s would give that away, apparently some strain of austerity Britain, though the accents are hard to place.

Maybe this was simply the tale of a lonely little girl who was trapped in a cycle she didn't understand, but the way we did not understand it either did have a distancing effect. The closest this had to a recognisable star was Romola Garai, the barmaid at the local pub, and she had her own journey to go on, one which was extremely unpleasant. It was this mood of the unpalatable that rendered Earwig difficult to warm to, especially when there was nobody to latch onto for audience identification: even Mia was so passive that we may feel sorry for her, but she only exhibits a streak of rebellion once, when she sees a lake for the first time, and breaks away from Albert to investigate (and that has an alarming outcome as well). Being a film from this director, it was tempting to explain it away as a metaphor of approaching adolescence, that's the usual interpretation of this kind of thing, but really who knew? It did look fantastic, it was well-acted, but would be frustrating for almost everyone who tried it, purposefully so.

[IN CINEMAS 10th JUNE 2022.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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