A Brooklyn Horror Festival 2022 Review
The Nazi party’s well-documented fascination with the occult is rife with horror potential. Writer-director Marie Alice Wolfszahn dips her toes into these dangerous waters in her debut feature Mother Superior, a lush Gothic tale that casts a bewitching spell.
Set in 1975, the film follows Sigrun (Isabella Händler), a nurse who travels to the remote Rosenkreuz Manor to care for the ailing Baroness Heidenreich (Inge Maux), who lives alone but for her groundskeeper, Otto (Jochen Nickel). We quickly learn that the eccentric Baroness ran the Aryan maternity ward where Sigrun was born, and the young woman desperately wants to know who her parents were. That secret, she believes, is buried somewhere in the mountains of Nazi paperwork concealed within the mansion—but it’s far from the only secret the Baroness is hiding.
Mother Superior is a love letter to Gothic horror films like those put out by Hammer in the 50s and 60s. The house is a character in itself, a crumbling artifice that feels complex and haunted. It also acts as an extension of the Baroness, a woman who committed terrible deeds and is now dying a slow, natural death surrounded by luxury and rot.
But the Baroness isn’t content to die quietly, and it isn’t long before Sigrun is caught up in her employer’s occult dealings. The theme of matriarchal power is ever present in Mother Superior, but the film deliberately refuses the shake the spectre of fascism, reminding us to be wary of those who seek to empower some at the expense of the oppression of others.
Eerie and ethereal, Mother Superior is at its best when it leans into its arthouse influences, but it occasionally feels the need to establish a more conventional narrative through the use of interview footage between Sigrun and an interrogator asking about what happened. These interludes feel like a waste of screen time in a film that barely scrapes 70 minutes, pulling us away from the more interesting events unfolding at the manor. The teasingly short runtime means Mother Superior doesn’t outstay its welcome, but it also leaves the story feeling a touch under-explored.
Words: Samantha McLaren (@themeatispeople)