RUNNING TIME: 19 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Edward is an obsessive compulsive living with his mother and father who spends much of his time alone, carrying out his daily tasks with mathematical precision. One day, his mother informs him that someone is coming to stay with them, Edward’s cousin Berenice, who doesn’t seem too stable herself. Something happened between the two many years ago, but Berenice’s health is beginning to decline and Edward’s obsession with her deepens….
The rarely adapted [off the top of my head I can only think of a TV movie] Berenice is one of Edgar Allan Poe’s more obscure short stories, though it’s full of the familiar themes you find elsewhere in similar Poe works such as Ligeia and The Fall Of The House Of Usher. Therefore I can entirely see why Jeremiah Kipp decided to adapt it. It’s both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time as well as being a bit….well…. nastier than usual. He’s set the story in modern times, something which tends not to work too well with Poe adaptations, and has tweaked certain aspects, but has kept its essence. A couple of minutes into it, I realised that Kipp had successfully captured that Poe feeling of gloomy romantic dread, and a couple of minutes after it ended, I began to hope that Kipp would do more Poe. The odd thing about Berenice is that it has a much more restrained, even realistic, look and style to it than you might expect considering the source material, and how stylishly and cleverly Kipp employed shadows and darkness in The Minions. Once again, Kipp surprises, and pulls off said surprise.
The story is told from the point of view of Edward, a variation on your typical Poe protagonist. You know he’s not entirely ‘right’ almost immediately when, upon hearing that his cousin is coming over to stay, he pores over family photos of her and even touches and strokes them. It’s not specified what exactly went on between them in the past. Edward seems to have flashbacks to somewhat odd sexual encounters with her, but they could just be his fantasies. Even when telling a story in a much more straight-forward manner, Kipp can’t resist a bit of ambiguity, and that’s one of the things I love about this filmmaker. He takes Berenice at quite a slow pace, but the sombre, even forlorn atmosphere is well achieved, while I was genuinely moved at the sight of the dying Berenice shuffling her way into the kitchen where Edward is. It all climaxes in an ending which, as long as you don’t know the original story [which caused a furore when it was first published], may very well shock you. The final image is one of the most disturbing I’ve seen in a while.
Something like Berenice partially hinges on strong performances to really work, and luckily they two leads come up trumps. Thomas Mendolia, especially with his blank stare, is astoundingly creepy and the livelier Cheryl Koski almost damn near broke my heart. Kenneth Kotowski’s cinematography relies much on subtly differing lighting to have much of its effect but has a masterly cold precision about it, while Barbara J. Weber’s score mixes piano and synth to quite ominous effect. Despite not being an original story, and being more conventional in handling, Berenice still has the disturbing ambience, the almost effortless sense of stuff just being ‘wrong’, the pointed observation and the willingness to make the viewer think for him or herself that seem to be trademarks of the very talented Jeremiah Kipp.
Berenice is included on Creepers: Horror Anthology Movie Volume 2, which you can buy here: creepersfilm.com