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The Devil's Bath (18)

Director: Veronkia Franz, Severin Fiala
Screenplay: Veronkia Franz, Severin

Starring: Anja Plaschg
Running time: 121 minutes

Shudder release

Review: RJ Bland

History used to be one of my favourite subjects at school. Well, until I studied it in Sixth Form, fell out with one of the teachers, got bad grades and ditched it completely after one year. Anyway. like a lot of kids I was fascinated by the grisly details and the wars and horrors of centuries past. But when you grow up and realise that this stuff actually happened to real people, it becomes less entertaining and much more troubling. Witch trials, slavery, plagues, genocide, disease, subjegation. We think things are bad now (and for some they still are rough) but compared to what our ancestors had to deal with, we have it pretty good. The darker side of history has long been a source of inspiration for writers and film-makers, especially those within the genre. Robert Eggers' The Witch (2015) may be the most notable and successful modern example but period horror films have been around for decades and have dredged the depths of humanity. Eight for Silver, The Brotherhood of the Wolf, An American Haunting, The Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan's Claw, Bone Tomahawk, From Hell. We've examined everything from werewolves and witches to serial killers and possessions. The great thing is that there are still a whole plethora of stories and periods of history to explore from renowned national events to lesser known regional legends and tales. The Devil's Bath, directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (Good Night Mommy, The Lodge) does the latter and plunges us into a rather sobering 18th century Austria.


Agnes (Anja Plaschg) is a young woman who has just been married to her beloved, a man with a rather awesome name - Wolf (David Scheid). On their wedding night, he leads her into the woods and shows her their newly purchased home. He tells her that this is a place that they can raise their children. A wedding, a brand new pad and the promise of offspring – Agnes is living the rural 18th century Austrian dream! Right?! Well, not exactly. Because although Wolf seems to care for her, on their wedding night she discovers that he might not be quite as interested in her as she'd hoped, if you know what I mean (honey, the tortilla chips know what you mean!). She's also got to contend with her new mother-in-law, who insists on coming over every evening and criticising Agnes for her general abilities as a housewife. Agnes isn't into cleaning and cooking to be honest and instead spends her time trying to make herself useful down at the lake, trying to help the local men catch fish. But she's not very good at that either. Agnes may have hoped for marital bliss but only finds despair and loneliness as she struggles to find any purpose to her existence. Riddled with religious guilt and losing her sense of self, she soon finds herself descending further and further into mental anguish and at risk of doing something unspeakable...


We’re not going to lie, this is pretty grim viewing. If you thought Goodnight Mommy and The Lodge were oppressive then you ain’t seen nothing yet. It makes Robert Egger’s The Witch feel like a jolly old time. Ok, well that may be pushing it but you get the idea. The opening two minutes leave you in no doubt as to what you are in for thankfully so if you can’t stomach that opening, then it’s probably best to bow out at that point. For although nothing grisly happens for the vast majority of the two hours plus run time, when we do get these sequences they are undeniably harrowing. Fiala and Franz use these brief moments of shock and horror as punctuation points throughout what is otherwise a slow burn historical drama. There’s an argument to be made that The Devil’s Bath isn’t really a true horror movie - and the film makers have even gone on record to say they’re not sure it is either. The title may make it sound as if we’re in for a supernatural horror but be warned; this is not that sort of film (Devil’s Bath is a historic term for depression & melancholy).The horror here is psychological first and foremost as we bear witness to the gradual descent into mental anguish of a woman trying to exist in a world with overbearing religious and societal expectations. Yes, we get some gore and yes we get some body horror but for the most part, The Devil’s Bath is about what’s going on inside our protagonist, rather than outside - even if her external environment is so rough (there’s a lot of mud and gloom and thorny shrubs). Anja Plaschg's portrayal of Agnes is unerring too, we're never sure whether we should be worried for or scared of our lead character and as a result, the viewer is in a constant state of mild anxiety.


If you have seen either (or both) of Fiala and Severin’s previous films then you will be already aware that they don’t do conventional scares and that there is little relief in their often nihilistic plots. You don’t go into these with a box of popcorn expecting a ghost-train thrill ride. In fact, you usually leave them with a mild sense of despondency and trauma. This is probably their darkest venture yet and as the final scenes unfurl themselves like some inevitable but shocking nightmare, you might wish you'd popped on something a bit more light-hearted. But for those who can handle the solemn and severe in equal measure, this will be an interesting and satisfying watch.

Without a doubt, The Devil's Bath won't be everyone's cup of tea. It's more historical drama than horror and it's the most sobering Fiala/Franz film yet. But fans of their previous work will appreciate the weighty themes, gloomy visuals and pervasive sense of dread.
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