Convincing melancholy ghosts

Ég Man Þig is a quietly melancholy horror movie from Iceland, based on a novel by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. Its title translates to English as I Remember You, and it is indeed largely concerned with memory and loss; it is in fact an outstanding example of the way that fantastical forms of fiction can deal effectively with aspects of human experience that are resistant to a conventional, mimetic narrative. It’s hard to explain exactly what I mean without smearing a thick layer of spoilers all over this journal entry, which is written (for reasons) according to the far-fetched conceit that other people might read it. However, I can say that it explores the ways that certain traumatic experiences, such as the loss of a child, or abuse by a parent, can impact on our emotional lives; by externalising and literalising the inner, metaphorical drama of such experiences, it makes that crisis available for dramaturgy, without needing to resort to the kind of far-fetched self-examination and contrived symbolic conflicts that tend to mar mimetic treatments of such themes. In short, by enacting the psychodrama in terms of far-fetched ideas such as ghosts, it leaves the characters free to act in the reticent, frozen way more characteristic of grief-stricken people.

I’ve not read any of Sigurðardóttir’s books (although I have shelved plenty of their English translations at the library), so I don’t know if they are generally the sort of crime novels that read like ‘grown-up’ fiction, but this film certainly does approach its materials (and its generic conventions) with sincerity and some insight. As a genre piece it is extremely low-key, and its tone is one of sorrowful unease rather than crawling terror (or the lurid gore-comedy which is actually more prevalent in horror fiction); spouse found it ‘miserable and stressful’, and would clearly have preferred not to have seen it, but at least it appears to have had something like its intended emotional impact! If the film left me taking crafty glances behind me as I made my way to bed, it was largely for its observation that what we regret will haunt us; but it should be said that it realises its supernatural elements convincingly. The acting shows restrained conviction, the direction is well-judged, and the editing subtle. I feel as though I have internalised some of the sadness of Ég Man Þig’s clearly drawn characters, and I’m sure it’s a film that will stay with me.

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