'The Man in the Orange Jacket': London Review

Orange Jacket Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Locomotive Productions

Orange Jacket Still - H 2014

Orange is the new bleak

Atmospheric Latvian slasher-thriller puts a timely twist on psycho-horror conventions for an age of economic austerity

Billed as the first-ever horror movie from Latvia, The Man in the Orange Jacket is a stylish, ambitious, politically charged psycho-thriller made by the same Riga-based production house as the small Baltic state's current foreign-language Oscar candidate, Rocks in My Pocket. The Armenian-born writer-director Aik Karapetian never quite delivers on the chilly promise of his opening act, but there are sequences here that have the creepy, controlled intensity of Michael Haneke or Lars von Trier.

After making a positive splash at Telluride, Austin's Fantastic Fest and Canada's Fantasia, Karapetian's second feature screened at the London Film Festival two weeks ago. Beyond festival circles it should appeal to the minority of genre fans who favor highbrow psychological mystery over high body counts, with potential for crossover to art house audiences too.

Dressed in the high-visibility uniform of his profession, the nameless man of the title (Maxim Lazarev) is a dockworker who has just been laid off from his job along with 200 colleagues. Emotionless and silently determined, he sets off on a trudging country walk to a luxurious lakeside mansion belonging to the dock's wealthy owner (Aris Rozentals). Following a silent home invasion, the intruder slaughters the tycoon and his young wife (Anta Aizupe) with a hammer and screwdriver, the tools of manual labor transformed into weapons of class war.

Instead of fleeing the scene of his crime, the killer turns lord of the manor and begins savoring the high life, gorging on expensive artwork and fancy food. But he soon starts to feel spooked by odd noises and sightings around the remote, empty mansion. A mysterious figure, also wearing an orange jacket, starts stalking him. A visit from a pair of look-alike prostitutes descends into a sadistic, sexually deranged bloodbath and a brutal cat-and-mouse chase through the snowy woods outside. Or so it seems, as there are strong hints that these reality-warping scenes are feverish hallucinations.

The Man in the Orange Jacket draws on some classy cinematic antecedents, from Kubrick's The Shining to von Trier's Antichrist via Alexandre Aja's High Tension. It is also assembled with a self-consciously arty eye, holding back its elegant opening credits until a full 15 minutes of plot have elapsed, and keeping the protagonist silent until almost midway through.

Sadly, Karapetian appears to lose his nerve in the second half, piling on nightmarish twists in place of narrative logic, from reanimated corpses to amateurishly staged knife attacks. The identity of the second orange-jacketed man is also plain from the start, despite clumsy attempts to conceal his face. With a compact running time of 71 minutes, the bloody finale inevitably feels a little rushed and lacks the requisite nerve-shredding crescendo that defines the best psycho-horror movies.

More spooky short story than full-blooded feature, The Man in the Orange Jacket is a great idea only half realized, failing to exploit the latent dramatic potential buried in its timely subtext of underclass rage in an age of extreme inequality. That said, this is still an intriguing trip into the Twilight Zone from an unsung cinematic corner of Europe, marking Karapetian as a sharp young talent with a bright future in dark fairy tales.

Production company: Locomotive Productions
Cast: Maxim Lazarev, Anta Aizupe, Aris Rozentals
Director: Aik Karapetian
Screenwriter: Aik Karapetian
Producer: Roberts Vinovskis
Cinematographers: Janis Eglitis, Jurgis Kmins
Editor: Andris Grants

Sales: Wide Management, Paris

No MPAA rating, 71 minutes