“A good mother must always protect her children. Always. And I am a good mother.”
Director Anto’s feature, ‘Tenebra’, certainly stays true to its title, embodying an unrelenting quality of “profound darkness” from start to finish.
The piece does something unusual with regard to its use of perspective, as well, in this same respect. When we meet our protagonist, Marta (played by Elisa Del Genio), she awakens from a nightmare into a domestic hellscape of her very own. However, this nightmare in question is not simply some mirage of amalgamated subconscious thoughts and fears, melting into a troubling vision…as night terrors tend to be.
Rather, this vision is exactly that– a glimpse into the real life of Giulia (played by Tonia De Micco)– a mother held captive as she delivers a newborn baby against a ticking clock so as to beat the Dark Ogre who is on his way. It is not until much later on in the film that we meet Giulia again.
Before that, we viewers must glean some sense of the horrors that dejected teen, Marta (to say the very least) is attempting to live with. Or, escape.
Marta and Giulia serve as compelling dueling/dual entities onscreen, considering their shared traumas. And the cinematography as well as the editing at work within this film, do play into this notion of their interwoven intentions as characters. To an extent, that is.
We are often tricked into believing that one of these characters is following through with some action, only to learn that it was actually the other committing the act, all along. This subversion of expectations has a great deal to do with the cultivation of suspense as the narrative unfolds. It keeps the audience on their toes, as we never fully know who to believe.
This unknowing serves as a sort of darkness in its own right.
Tonia De Micco delivers a haunting performance as Giulia, our mother who refuses to be punished ever again. Perhaps this quality of warped perception goes beyond the realm of merely being a unique plot device. After all, the film does bring its viewers to understand that this character truly does believe that what she’s saying is true.
Despite what her monstrous actions might entail or reveal to those watching, Giulia understands her own acts as a form of protection. This is her individual sense of logic at work, given the manner in which her world has shaped her.
But the psychology of these characters was not the only force shaping this film. The soundscape of the world also surprised me at unexpected moments.
Not so much by what was present in certain scenes, but by the way that sequences sprung to life once those repetitive background noises suddenly went away. This still didn’t make up for or mask the dialogue lag, however, which I couldn’t help but fixate on.
Nevertheless, ‘Tenebra’ certainly managed to hold its own through its performances and crisp cinematography. Such adorable child actors, too! I’ll never know how Marta managed to escape those bonds in the bathroom, or why she didn’t do that two scenes earlier than she did. But hey, that’s not the point!
Everyone is haunted by their past, and by the perceptions of others that are cast upon us, but the real question lies in how we choose to move forward through the horror of it all.
Panic Fest 2023: ‘Tenebra’ and the Virtues of Motherhood