Monday, May 18, 2009

Sovia: Death Hospital (Germany, 2009)

(Spoilers.) Sovia (Diana Radnai) is a young, beautiful and pregnant nurse in a Berlin hospital who is in the midst of losing her egoistic co-worker boyfriend Konrad (Sascha Kudella) to another nurse, the Teutonic blonde Sarah (Andrea Gerhard). A badly beaten emergency patient (Vera Hübner) dies while in emergency treatment, for which Sovia is held responsible. And, as if that weren’t enough, Sovia gets run over by a car, loses her baby and has a near-death experience during which she meets the dead emergency patient, who leaves a strange bruise upon her body. A bruise that is mysteriously passed on to anyone she comes into contact with. Relegated to the nether regions of hospital work due to the accidental death, one by one her coworkers begin to die puzzling deaths, deaths that the police are sure Sovia is answerable for. Can she stop the seemingly steady string of deaths and save herself as well?
If Sovia herself does perhaps still live in the final scene, it is no solace to either her nor the viewer, for what is left of her life on earth is but a living hell, and she knows (as do we the viewer) for sure that she too will soon meet her end at the unnatural hands of the revenge driven killer ghost...
Sovia: Death Hospital is German graduate film production that has managed to get a commercial DVD release and, in all truth, when this film is compared to the average commercially filmed feature-length movie or direct-to-DVD product, director Robert Franke's initial foray into feature-length filmmaking puts a lot of so-called established professionals to shame – in spades. Well made and frightening, Sovia: Death Hospital in no way reveals its Potsdam film-school roots and, instead, comes across as a fine if restrained horror film that is just waiting to be discovered. Going by the overall quality of the production, given the chance both director Robert Franke and scriptwriter Raimund V. Tabor could possibly go places – as could more than one of the beautiful babes that not only make their feature-film acting debut in the movie but actually show acting talent. (T’ain’t it a shame none of them get nekkid – but then, Sovia: Death Hospital is very much not an exploitation film; its major influences are definitely much more the less blood-thirsty Asian ghost films and possibly even Val Lewton's mood-driven horror films, and not 42nd Street.)
True, the script doesn’t really offer anything new in the ghost story department, but it does have a solid grasp of characterization, action and scares and almost never slips. Only the death of the policeman is out-of-place: The ghost is revenge driven, killing those immediately involved during the initial emergency room procedure during which she died – the policeman came onto the scene later and as such should never be targeted by her. His death is less logical than a plot device to increase the general suspicion held by others against Sovia as being the real murderer. OK, it could be argued that Sovia touched him as well and thus passed on the killer-hematoma, but if contact with Sovia guarantees eventual death, then why doesn’t the old geezer for whom she cares – or the other, younger cop – also become eventual victims?
The classiness that the filmmakers are vying for is evident from the start, with a finely aesthetic title sequence of red blood squirting out into and then dissipating against a white background. Franke’s aesthetic eye remains sharp throughout the whole film, which, bathed in depressingly dank greens, blues and grays, he films in a clear but slow and quiet manner that both intensifies the suspense and increases the general sense of unavoidable doom. (Indeed, his direction is so atmospheric and deliberate that when he finally pulls a Brian De Palma and does a totally unneeded and baroque 360-degree rotation shot around Sovia at one point, the shot sticks out like a sore thumb.)
Sovia: Death Hospital is a fine and frightening film that transcends its roots and is well worth searching out.

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