'Resin' ('Harpiks'): Film Review | TIFF 2019

Resin - TIFF - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of TIFF
Evocative and grueling.

The latest feature from New Zealand-born, Denmark-based director Daniel Joseph Borgman ('The Weight of Elephants') was produced by Lars von Trier regular Peter Aalbæk Jensen.

Recent movies like Captain Fantastic, Leave No Trace or Cédric Kahn’s Wild Life have shown parents — and, more specifically, fathers — whisking their children away from society into the throes of rustic living, often with hazardous results. But while those films also tried to highlight the occasional warmth, humanity and natural comforts inherent in such questionable life choices, these aspects are rarely on display in Resin (Harpiks), a very dark and Danish entry into the genre that was backed by Lars von Trier’s longtime executive producer, Peter Aalbæk Jensen.

The third feature from New Zealand-born director Daniel Joseph Borgman (The Weight of Elephants), Resin begins with a father, Jens (Peter Plaugborg), desperately trying to save his daughter from drowning, only to reveal that the whole thing was faked. Years later, the woodsman is living cut off from the world with his girl, Liv (the promising Vivelill Søgaard Holm), and his wife (Sofie Gråbøl), a spitting image of Mama Cass who grows so outlandishly obese that she never leaves her bed.

At Jens’ whim, the three have built their very own Walden outside of town, subsisting on berries, rabbits and other stuff they hunt and gather in the surrounding forest. In some cases, this could be an idyllic life, but in Borgman’s warped vision, what starts off as a strange sort of reverie grows increasingly sordid: One day, they’re all sitting around the table eating root vegetables, and the next they’re gutting a stillborn baby, removing its organs and mummifying it in the film’s titular sticky goo.

Quickly enough, it becomes obvious that Jens is a total nutjob (albeit organic nuts that he gleans in the woods), and Liv, however brainwashed she may be by her dad, is looking for a way out — or at least another form of human contact, which she soon finds with a bartender (Armanda Collin) whose supplies she’s been stealing at night.

And yet, as much as the plot (the script was written by Bo Hr. Hansen, The Purity of Vengeance) provides the setup for a tense, twisted family tale, Resin both figuratively and literally gets stuck in the mud, with Jens dragging everyone through it as he does the unthinkable to keep his home-on-the-range intact. Rather than building toward a gripping climax, the film tumbles further into its own hysteria along with all the characters, and the third act doesn’t leave you shaken so much as it slathers you in lots of blood and slime.

While he comes up short on story, Borgman creates a highly evocative visual universe, plunging us into Liv’s subjective viewpoint as her hermetic existence starts to unravel. Working with cinematographer Louise McLaughlin and production designer Josephine Farsø (Holiday), he depicts a sludge-filled, dimly-lit dreamscape that’s somewhere between the organic wonders of Tarkovsky’s The Mirror and the rural decay of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with certain compositions borrowing from the freakish produce paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Costumes by Marquet K. Lee are another highlight, showing Liv in assemblies of vivid knitwear and vintage gear that look like Peter Pan outfits revamped by Alexander McQueen.  

The vigorous aesthetic lends Resin some weight, yet it's not enough to make it fully, um, resonate. After a world premiere in Toronto, the film should see further festival play, including at genre outings. But it may be a harder sell to either pure-blooded horror fans or art house aficionados as a work that sits purposely, and uncomfortably, between the two.

Production companies: Zentropa Productions 2, Adomeit Film
Cast: Peter Plaugborg, Vivelill Søgaard Holm, Sofie Gråbøl, Ghita Nørby, Amanda Collin
Director: Daniel Joseph Borgman
Screenwriter: Bo Hr. Hansen
Producers: Katja Adomeit, Peter Aalbæk Jensen
Executive producer: Louise Vesth
Director of photography: Louise McLaughlin
Production designer: Josephine Farsø
Costume designer: Marquet K. Lee
Editor: Sofie Marie Kristensen
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema)
Sales: TrustNordisk

In Danish
92 minutes