Sometimes, the most despicable and creepy monsters are those in the guise of human beings. Beneath the outwardly normal and pretty surface of our protagonist Agnes (Lora Burke) in this excellent addition to the psychological horror genre, is a cold-blooded and narcissistic serial killer. She feels an almost divine sense of compulsion and empowerment when she seduces, ensnares, then slowly tortures her male prey.
Agnes gets a kick from her vocation in life, even carefully taking notes at confession meetings she attends, soaking up the experiences of lost souls who have suffered various forms of torture in their lives. Mental anguish she observes with interest, which she will passionately utilise to twist the minds of her very own victims.
However, the warped sense of power this murder mistress feels is soon challenged, as the tone changes from being your typical slasher or serial killer narrative, to what can only be described as an indulgent view into her mind and motivations, as we plunge into the depths of her depravity.
When private investigator Mike (Robert Norman) arrives on the trail of one of her missing previous victims, she soon sets about ensnaring her latest victim, but then something quite unexpected happens.
Agnes begins to fall for Mike and in what can only be described as a reverse Stockholm Syndrome effect, the captor finds herself becoming romantically attracted to her captive. What follows is a sickly twisted exploration of destructive and toxic relationships but, all the while, rivets the audience as to how this will all turn out, especially when a third ingredient and another victim is added to the mix.
“When you take a human life, you become a God just for an instance. But if you take a human mind, you own a soul. Then you are a God,” says Agnes during one of her voice-overs, as we delve deep into the abyss of a dark mind, and what drives this abnormal and predatory human being.
These are moments in the movie which are very reminiscent of Christian Bale and his portrayal of gruesome urban professional, Patrick Bateman, in critically acclaimed 2000 movie, American Psycho, which explored crazy in an entirely entertaining way and grossed over $15 million at the US box office alone. However, this time, our demented protagonist is Canadian and female, providing a unique twist on most of our cinema serial killers being distinctly male, with women rarely the focus of such horrifying explorations of how twisted the human mind can be.
While there are some obvious nods to the psychotic serial killer genre by director Nevin Ramaswaran, what genuinely holds this production together is an amazingly convincing performance by Lora Burke in the lead role. She creates a terrifying presence as Agnes, one that we will loathe but, at the same time, be fascinated to follow throughout the movie. Poor Agnes, in its own very unique way, is the most bizarre and darkest of romances at heart, beyond the psychological horror genre in which it will most certainly reside, but that mixture of horror and romance have so often worked supremely as integral driving forces in movies.
Poor Agnes debuted at the 2017 Toronto After Dark Festival to a great reception, both from critics and audiences alike. The movie also won the 2017 Barry Convex Award at the Fantasia International Film Festival, nominated as the Best Canadian Feature, with the awarding jury hailing it as “a daring and powerful middle finger against established filmmaking.”
Some of the most fascinating movies have been horror-romance combinations, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992, with Gary Oldman’s marvellous character trapped by a tragically lost love that might be rekindled, evoking a sense of pity and sympathy for a vampire who we should be loathing, but his very nature has been forged by the profoundness of his loss.
Gore-filled 1987 classic, Hellraiser, is also filled with twisted lust and a story of forbidden desires, as a bored housewife falls for the charms of her returned from the dead brother-in-law. This, of course, brings the arrival of the demonic Cenobites, eager to tear their souls apart and recover the puzzle box the ill-fated couple opened, in pursuit of such taboo and otherworldly passions.
Beyond the silver screen, the horror-romance mix has become increasingly popular in gaming culture, too. Manga-style offering The Way We All Go is a wickedly gruesome RPG with a distinctly Japanese flavour, while even online slots game Immortal Romance is a richly themed union of the two popular genres.
It’s not just games with a keyboard, mouse, or joypad that are delving into the horror-romance arena either. Orcs and humans may have been the focus of high fantasy table-top roleplaying games for many decades, but recent releases such as provocative Gothic horror romp Ghastly Affair are redefining the story-driven fun of ‘old school’ desktop gaming.
A darkly romantic kiss of life is restoring the popularity of such gaming amongst fans of such fantasy adventures.