Director: Robert Sigl
Script: Robert Sigl & Adam Rozgonyi
Cast: Dóra Szinetăr, Brigitte Karner, Kăroly Eperjes, Hėdi Temessy, Barnabas Tóth, Jănos Derzi, Endre Kătay
Running time: 83.5 minutes
Year: 1988
Certificate: 18

Laurin opens with the titular character (Dóra Szinetăr) scrutinising her surroundings through a spyglass; effectively spying on her neighbours and on those in her close vicinity. And much of this troubling Gothic horror film feels very much like a fly-on-the-wall observation of small town life; observing the trials and tribulations of its residents, during the turn of the previous century, but as seen from a child’s perspective.

The film has a rather slight plot, revolving around a coming-of-age drama of a young girl, Laurin, (around 10 years of age), whose mother dies in disturbing circumstances, leaving her in the care of her father’s drug-taking elderly mother, since he’s a merchant seaman and spends many months away from home at a time. And, coinciding with his departure for the sea, comes the arrival of a new teacher, Van Rees (Kăroly Eperjes), who, initially, seems more caring of the children in his class than his predecessor, but rapidly develops a decidedly more unhealthy, twisted interest in his pupils, who also start disappearing, one-by-one.

When Laurin’s best friend, the bookish and frequently picked-upon, Stefan (Barnabas Tóth), disappears Laurin takes it into her own hands to try and find out what has happened to him, resulting in a close and violent encounter with a very real kind of evil. Weirdly the police seem none existent in this particular milieu.

Laurin is clearly more of an arthouse film than the more usual multiplex fodder, which probably hasn’t helped its overall status or recognition factor over the years, hence its relative obscurity. Director Robert Sigl is clearly fascinated in death and the effects it has on family and on wider communities. Instead of creating characters that spout reams of dialogue, as is often the case with arthouse fare, Laurin is more a mood piece, richly atmospheric and swirling with lurking menace. In fact, Laurin clearly belongs to the small fantasy/horror sub-category involving girls, approaching puberty, being put in danger; for example, The Company of Wolves (1984) and Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970).

Actress Dóra Szinetăr does a fine job of playing Laurin as both a child/ almost tween, on the cusp of womanhood; a fact borne out by the scene where she walks in on her naked father bathing and it’s her reaction to this unplanned encounter that shows that she has many layers to her character and personal development. In particular, Szinetăr has very expressive eyes that speak volumes in just a glance, coquettish or otherwise.

The other actors involved are all excellent too, providing nuanced performances across the board, and this praise includes the child actors too. All the actors were Hungarian, hence they learned their lines phonetically, but they still do a decent job, despite this limitation. But, ultimately, the film is all about the visuals and cinematographer, Nyika Janscó, does a great job of making the mundane seem quite creepy and off-kilter and clearly the director was influenced by the likes of Dario Argento when it comes to lighting and some of his shot compositions, especially during the more surreal dream sequences. In the extras it’s clear that both he and the cinematographer were massively influenced by Hitchcock too.

If you’re a fan of understated horror that slowly creeps under your skin, then Laurin is aimed more at you than at the gory-for-gore’s-sake brigade. Having said that, I think Laurin should be categorised as more of a gothic drama, with some horror trappings, rather than horror, per se. It’s certainly a one-of-a-kind film and is definitely worth a watch even if you’re not particularly a gothic horror fan.

Laurin is being distributed by Second Run on Blu-ray. There are a number of substantial extras on the disc including:

The Making of Laurin (10 mins) – An archival documentary showing some behind-the-scenes footage and which relates various facts about the film, such as its budget was 1.2M Deutsche Mark and much of this came from a German TV channel who sponsored it.

Deleted scenes (20 mins) – Mostly made up of extended establishing shots or alternative takes. The footage is untreated so the picture quality is not good.

Interviews with actors Dóra Szinetăr (18 mins) and Barnabas Tóth (10 mins), who both have fond memories of the shoot, and cinematographer Nyika Janscó (15 mins) and film historian Jonathan Rigby (33 mins), who both talk in more depth about the production of the movie and about the finished film itself. Dora, heavily pregnant in the interview, we learn mostly stuck to doing theatre acting afterwards, as did Barnabas, who seems to have gotten stereotyped in vulnerable bullied roles. Nyika reveals that Laurin was never shown in Hungary as horror is not popular there and that he later went on to work on big films like Hellboy 2 and Underworld. Rigby does his usual solid job of bringing it all together and putting the film into historical context. His only real gripe about the film is he feels the music is too modern for the period setting.

German trailer (2.14 mins) – In German language, obviously

Two short films by Sigl, namely The Christmas Tree (19.5 mins), which is a rather strange film about a father who almost kills his son after their Christmas meal together and Coronola 21 (10 mins) which is clearly a pandemic-shot film whereby director Sigl wanders around during lockdown pondering the snowy Munich cityscape, slowly losing his marbles. He even references Laurin at one point, with it playing on a screen in his room.

Laurin - Second Run
3.5Overall Score
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About The Author

After a lengthy stint as a print journalist, Justin now works as a TV and film producer for Bazooka Bunny. He's always been interested in genre films and TV and has continued to work in that area in his new day-job. His written work has appeared in the darker recesses of the internet and in various niche publications, including ITNOW, The Darkside, Is it Uncut?, Impact and Deranged. When he’s not running around on set, or sat hunched over a sticky, crumb-laden keyboard, he’s paying good money to have people in pyjamas try and kick him repeatedly in the face.

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