Breathing In, the new horror film from director Jaco Bouwer, would provide ample unease within a vacuum, but given the historical context in which it is set — Bouwer adapted the script from the South African play of the same name by Reza De Wet — the film takes on a substantially more provocative and harrowing meaning. In the midst of the Anglo-Boer War in turn-of-the-century South Africa, a wounded soldier and general find refuge in the dimly-lit home of a woman and her daughter. As the events play out, the young man Brand (Sven Ruygrok) is increasingly unsettled by what he witnesses, namely the sickly nature of the young daughter (Jamie-Lee Money), the actions of her mother (Michele Burgers), and the simple fact that dawn does not seem to be approaching.
The historical context of the film is all conveyed during opening title cards that inform the remainder of the single-location thriller. The first modern concentration camps were employed by the British during this war, preying on and killing thousands of South Africans. The film, therefore, primarily focuses on the nature of imprisonment and cruelties executed for the benefit of others. I don’t want to dive deeper into the plot at risk of spoiling, but suffice it to say that if nothing else, the film is absolutely worth seeing for the stunning final act.
Alongside that final section of the film, it features excellent performances, especially from Ruygrok and Burgers, and was simply the best looking movie of the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. The minimal lighting design employed what looked to be mainly diegetic lantern light which cast rich yellows, oranges, and reds on the sets and performers faces. Breathing In seemed to be lit with the care and specificity of the stage play from which it originated. Cinematographer Jorrie van der Walt captures the scenes with a soft photographic style that seems loving and mysterious at first, only to reveal something far more sinister.
While there is plenty to appreciate with Breathing In, it does occasionally fall victim to some familiar art-horror trappings. Due to the single location and focus on the performers, the story and filmmaking can seem somewhat inert throughout the first two acts. Those that stick it out, though, will be richly rewarded. And just as it is for Brand, it’s hard to look away.