Directed/Produced by Karin Engman and Klas Persson
Written by Klas Persson
Odmarden Film Production, October 2018
Reviewed by Rick Hipson (Originally published with Hell Notes)
Flexing its production value and utilizing some gorgeous settings from Sweden’s forested wilderness, DRAUG transcends past culture and language to deliver the most frightening aspects of its native folklore to a diversified audience.
The story takes place in 11th century Sweden as Sheriff Hakan (Ralf Beck), along with his fosterling, Nanna (Elna Karlsson) and closest friend, Gunder (Urban Bergsten), are sent by the king to find out what happened to the Bishop Burke and his missionary, who’ve not yet returned as expected. Despite their marching orders, Nanna and her search party share some serious misgivings about the wooded border separating south from north, and the terrible curse rumoured to dwell there.
The quiet moments of dread throughout the film are equally matched by explosive bursts of terror in a world where your mind is as likely to kill you as anything else you may encounter. Even as one of their wounded comrades, delirious with fever, screams in anguish at unseen things, you start to wonder if maybe he’s the most rational of them all.
The further into the forest they travel, the deeper its haunted rage burrows inside them, and it won’t stop until it has them all. Not even a plot twist, however hinted at, slows down the grisly action late in the film as things take a turn for the even stranger as the hunters turn to the hunted. Every fleeting hope is devoured by the all-consuming evil of the Draugr, the corporeal undead of Norse mythology.
Although the cast provide nothing short of adequate to outstanding performances, further backstory would have added to the overall empathy viewers should have felt each time the Draugr picked off another victim. Despite this quibble, the film still manages to drive us towards a heart-pounding finale certain to unsettle your senses in the most pleasing of ways. Shying from greatness, DRAUG still leaves plenty to enjoy.
Bonus Interview with writer/director Karin Engman
DARK BITES: Considering the amount of time your cast spent traveling through the woods, what were the challenges and the advantages of shooting your film outdoors?
KARIN ENGMAN: The film is set in the woods where we live, so it was always meant to be shot there as well. The advantages are the feeling of being in the actual forest of Ödmården, its darkness and depth. Since it is a viking era movie there is also the benefit of silence from traffic and the lack of modern structures. With that said, there were certainly things that had to be removed in post, for example electric wires, writings on a wall and a chimney made of aluminium. As for the challenges, the big one is being exposed to the elements.
No toilets, rain, thunder, mosquitos (the scene where Odd is going crazy is totally real). Only access would be dirt roads which became a problem for some of the horse trailers. Despite all this, it was a great experience and all of the crew and cast thought it was awesome.
They really became these vikings and as for Klas and me, we always love to shoot in the wild, as we have done in the past with The Great Dying and will probably continue to do.
DB: Did you utilize a studio at all for any of your scenes?
KE: Yes, the scene with Hel, in the underworld, was shot on green screen. We rented a small cinema/theater in a nearby town witch has a green screen on the stage. That scene was shot a year after principal photography.
DB: The mythology of the Draugr dates back a very long time in Swedish folklore and is quite well known throughout Sweden. As far as western audiences go, what have you found to be their overall reactions and how might it compare with that of more localized audiences?
KE: Well actually, the word Draug is not that well known in Sweden, apart from all the viking enthusiasts of course. In modern Swedish you would say ”gengångare” ”again walker” (old norse aptrgangr) for this sort of corporeal ghosts. As in the US, there are a whole lot of viking fans, Skyrim fans and old nordic tales fans and they certainly are up to date with the draugr.
DB: The mythology of the Draugr has no debt cost many who know it a few restless nights of sleep throughout their formative years. What is it about this folklore that’s so intriguing and why was it the one you had to create your most recent movie about?
KE: The simplest answer to this is: we love horror, adventure and vikings. And we are very interested in the local stories about Ödmården, which is a place full of stories about the supernatural that goes back to the early early days of the people living here. So it came really easy to us.
DB: I love how you managed to keep the lighting pretty dreary and dark during the nighttime shoots, yet none of the frightening details of the Draug were lost on screen. That must have been a tricky balance to pull off, was it?
KE: We shot the film almost entirely daytime and day for night. It doesn’t get totally dark in Hälsingland, where the movie is set, during the summer time. We don’t have midnight sun but the sun resides just below the horizon during nights which creates constant twilight, and day for night almost perfectly mimics that. And yes we worked really hard in post production to make all the contrasts work so the monsters would not be too dark.
DB: When creating the English sub-titled version of DRAUG, how well did everything translate over? Were there any concerns that certain sections of dialogue may not translate as well into English?
KE: Yes. The style of the Swedish used in the film is a little old and sometimes the sentences are longer than modern Swedish. So it was difficult to translate and one concern was that the English audience may not be as used to subtitles as we are in Sweden (apart form kid’s movies, there is no dubbing in Sweden).
DB: Was the intention always to make it available for Western audiences?
KE: Absolutely, we want the whole world to see it!
DB: Utilizing sub-titles obviously allows you to access a much wider audience, and I hope DRAUG is getting the love across North America it deserves. Aside for the additional distribution and sales, how might the added exposure your film gets shape how you approach your next major project, if at all?
KE: So far the love and praise has been amazing, and we are very happy with how it turned out. We are working on a few new projects, some our own and some collaborating with others. The latter is solely the result of making Draug.
DB: And, of course I have to ask, what’s next?
KE: Well, there is not much we can say right now, other than it will happen. Either on our own or in collaboration with outside parties. It will have to be revealed at a later date.
DB: Thank you so much for your time, Karin. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next!
KE: Thank-you for having us!