FILM REVIEW: TIME OF MOULTING (FELLWECHSELZEIT)-FINAL GIRLS BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL
The Final Girls Berlin Film Festival showcases horror cinema directed, written, or produced by women and non-binary filmmakers. Though women continue to make a strong presence for themselves in the horror genre, chances like these are still an important event on the road to gender equality in the film industry. Final Girls Berlin streams online to german audiences on February 4th- 6th but international audiences can still purchase tickets to the festival’s short film blocks.
The festival’s opening night film was one from its home country: Sabrina Mertens’ FELLWECHSELZEIT aka TIME OF MOULTING. The film is a grim and uneasy watch despite its lack of traditional horror elements. Its meticulously combined ingredients of suffocating monotony, child neglect and emotional manipulation. The hopelessness afforded to its characters leaves such an uncomfortable, slightly nauseating feeling that it is a perfect film to begin a horror festival.
Stephanie is a precocious yet lonely child isolated from children her age by a mother who cannot seem to let go of the past. Preoccupied with her own mother’s death, she perpetuates a co-dependent cycle onto her daughter, while never actually raising her. Stephanie doesn’t receive any normalcy from her absent father either, who continuously shoos her away from him. And so, Stephanie spends her childhood milling around the house, exposing her impressionable young mind to old slaughterhouse photographs and butchering tools. She retreats into an imagination that becomes increasingly unhinged and barbaric as she stumbles her way into adulthood. It’s not surprising when she doesn’t become a well adjusted young woman.
The film is a nuanced portrait of how not to raise a child- an uncomfortable viewing of dysfunctional domesticity and mother-daughter relationships. Mertens doesn’t exaggerate this; there is no Hollywood editing or score to coach you into realizing how unfortunate Stephanie’s situation is. Instead, it all seems innocuous until all the small things add up. Her clothes are often crushed and creased, for example, and Stephanie is left to occupy herself with rusted knives and trying to make snails cannibalize each other. Meanwhile, her mother’s bedroom is crammed full of the dolls and teddy bears she should be playing with.
TIME OF MOULTING builds up your anticipation, a familiar feeling for an audience used to other slow-burn horror movies which come to a violent and somewhat satisfying last 20 minutes or so. The film has many creepy sequences that feel like they’re culminating in one final shock. Yet the film subverts this, leaving another kind of horror in the pit of the viewer’s stomach: emptiness and unfulfilled. The state the film left me in was wrestling existentially with the banality and also the injustice of life. It’s a powerfully unsettling film maybe more so for its restraint.
I would recommend approaching TIME OF MOULTING as drama- it will make your experience all the more horrifying. Undoubtedly, audiences at FGBFF would have been affected somehow, whether disturbed and saddened by the content or frustrated at the film’s conclusion. In my opinion, that is what movies are all about. TIME OF MOULTING screened opening night at Final Girls Berlin on February 4th.
“TIME OF MOULTING is a powerfully unsettling film, maybe more so for its restraint.”
3 Tombstones out of 5…