| June 30, 2015

A young girl studying the psychology and physiology of lucid dreaming finds herself working through some family baggage in her sleep.  Jessica (Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux) and her mother (Catriona MacColl) have never gotten along.  Caitlyn (MacColl) doesn’t understand why Jessica is wasting her life studying dreams and delusions and not devoting her life to something more stable and lucrative.  Frustrated with her mother’s lack of support, Jessica spends her time home trying to control her dreams.  Along the way, she encounters a version of her grandmother and begins unraveling a family secret that her mother has tried to keep hidden since before Jessica’s birth.  It’s difficult to summarize Horsehead simply because so much of it takes place inside Jessica’s dreams.  There’s a lot of symbolism and things being shown without any solid explanation.  It’s like a visual poem that is left to the viewer’s interpretation.  I personally find this style of filmmaking really lazy; it feels like the writer/director has no idea what the film means and just wants the audience to imprint their own ideas on it in the hopes that we’ll like it better.

The frustrating part of this film is that it doesn’t seem to know what type of horror movie it wants to be.  Parts of it are supernatural and play like religious/demonic horror.  Other parts are like a slasher movie.  Others deal with the psychological torment of a dysfunctional family.  I think it could have effectively explored these different tropes, but the rules of the world are not clearly defined and made it difficult for me to suspend my disbelief.  The premise centers around Jessica exploring her dreams to discover secrets about her mother and grandmother, but she can’t possibly have memories of these things so she’s having visions that are no longer dreams.  It’s never established where these visions come from, why they’re singling out this family, or even why they’re that important.

The performances are ok given that the actors aren’t given much character to work with.  The movie keeps inventing reasons for Pointeaux to take her clothes off and take a bath, and the mother is ably portrayed by MacColl despite being a fairly flat archetypal character.

I have to give the movie credit where it’s due.  The creature effects for horsehead are really impressive.  I thought he was really creepy even though I didn’t understand his significance in the overall story.  There’s a brief mention in the beginning about horses representing death, but his presence in the film falls flat for me.  I’m sure the film will develop a distinct cult following hell bent on deciphering all the symbolism in the film and loving it for making them work for those meanings, but I don’t have much desire to dive into it.  The other thing I really liked about the film was its dealing with taboo subjects.  The dreaming world of the subconscious is a place where anything and everything can happen.  Thoughts pop into our heads that we’d never admit while waking and this film tries to portray that by giving Jessica brief sex scenes with her mother and grandmother.  It’s pretty out there, but at least it’s unique.  Again, not sure what the significance is other than getting women to take their clothes off, but I at least appreciate the ingenuity.

Horsehead is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Artsploitation Films.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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