Johan (Max von Sydow) and Alma (Liv Ullmann) had planned to have a nice vacation on a remote island where Johan would get to paint and they both got to get over a bit of a crisis before their baby is born. But it appears that their island is not quite as empty and calm as they both had expected. It becomes clear that Johan has some kind of breakdown. He keeps seeing strange people – he calls them demons. And then an old lady fitting Johan’s description of one of the demons comes to Alma and tells her to read Johan’s diary.
Vargtimmen is a moody film, full of atmosphere and interesting imagery, but rather low on plot. I enjoyed it, but I would have wished for a little more done with the demons.
What makes the film work for me is first and foremost Liv Ullmann, both her character and her performance, and the way she emotionally grounds the entire story. I had no problem with her talking directly to the camera – in fact, I quite like that documentary set-up, even if the film doesn’t actually stick to that format. (Or maybe because of that since I’m not usually one for mockumentaries or found footage films.)
But having the only apparently sane person narrate the story was an excellent choice, as you feel quite as much at a loss as she does. Is Johan imagining all of it? Is it real? Or is it Alma after all who is imagining things, mistaking her husband’s psychological issues or maybe even just creativity for something supernatural?
But while the set-up works very well and Bergman employs a very distinct visual style in the film that is creepy and atmospheric, I felt that the story could have gone more places. It could have been a little more focused and on point, especially with the demon horde. There were just too many of them that we didn’t get enough time with any of them.
But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t like the film. It was intriguing and entertaining and cool. And maybe I would discover more of what I was missing when I watch it a second time.