Scandinavian witch drama crossed with a love triangle makes for over two hours of a mix between Days of Our Lives and Day of Wrath. Between bloody executions and false executions is a young girl’s selfish desire for the man she lusts, and her impulsive decisions find her caught up in one of the biggest witch trials in Nordic history.
Film buffs will know Scandinavian film is no stranger when it comes to the world of witchcraft – in fact, some of the greatest historical films are written about witches. One of the earliest horror film was Haxan, and the silent showing of different ways to identify witches has now become a cult classic around the world. Furthermore, Day of Wrath has been Carl Theodor Dreyer’s most celebrated film for its portrayal of a famous real-life Norwegian witch, Anne Pedersdotter. Witch trials were wide spread in Scandinavia – one of the largest ones, the Vardø trials, happened in far north Norway – and in Åland, where Devil’s Bride is set, was where Diabolism (worship of the devil) was first adapted as a serious issue in Sweden and Finland. Devil’s Bride is a new Finnish film that is set on the island between the two countries and picks up where the witch trials began.
The year is 1666 and a tight-knit community live in a small village on the island of Åland. When the passionate Anna (Tuulia Eloranta) falls in love with her friend Rakel’s (Elin Petersdottir) husband, Elias (Lauri Tanskanen). The two don’t last very long, though, and Rakel loses interest and moves on. Anna, hurt and jealous, decides to have revenge by accusing Rakel of witchcraft. Rakel is shortly arrested and Anna realises the seriousness of her actions. However, as the church is growing more paranoid of witchcraft in their region, it is too late to save Rakel.
The witches do seem to be prevalent in this town, though, as multiple women throughout the film are accused and executed for being witches. Devil’s Bride plays well into the paranoia that drove these dark witch hunts, and provides an excellent historical perspective. What’s more is that it shows the church is both an instigator and a source of encouragement, but at the same time they are incapable of proving who genuinely is a witch and generally prosecute on the basis of popular opinion. Devil’s Bride is based on true stories from this period and it was well worth all the necessary research – it highlights this dark period in Nordic history without going over the top.
Where the film does feel weak is in the narrative. The love triangle between Anna, Rakel and Elias seems almost unnecessary and at times it feels more like you are watching a soap opera than a drama. The film director, Saara Cantell, is well established in Finland and has won awards throughout Europe for her directing. Her films tend to revolve around very deep and very passionate love stories, and it is clear that in Devil’s Bride she wanted to maintain the theme. She also keeps some of the same actors from her previous films, for example Elin Petersdottir was also in Stars Above (2012). She co-wrote the film with Leena Virtanen, who has actually gone on to publish a book on the history of the witch trials in Åland. It’s clear to see that each writer added what aspect they cared about most, and at times this combination results in a messy narrative that at times can be either dull or hard to follow. The film struggles to find its balance between the history and the narrative that’s pushing it along, and this makes the film at times rather tedious to watch. Along with this confused plot-line, the film runs for over two hours, and therefore is about thirty minutes too long.
Devil’s Bride works with the setting it’s chosen to base itself in, and for a witchcraft film it’s intriguing and clearly historical aspect. If you don’t mind having to work your way through a love story to get there then Devil’s Bride is a gritty, historical and captivating historical drama that works with the true village paranoia and ‘mob mentality’.