In The Commune, a young girl tries to reconnect with an absentee father. Thinking it a good idea, her mother convinces the hesitant daughter to spend the summer with him. But it’s no normal summer getaway to get reacquainted and re-tie familial bonds. To compromise matters, the father is the leader of a new age-like group. They believe in having a particular openness to any and all faiths and that their lifestyle should have no limitations or hindrances.
The introduction of this openness, or as writer/director Elisabeth Fies calls it ‘a spiritual free for all’, is particularly chilling. This concept immediately struck me as, anyone who has spent any amount of time in organized religion can tell you, that it can be manipulated in ways that can and will suit the individual. The fact that they don’t have any guardrails leads you to believe that these people aren’t out in pursuit of things which will benefit the greater good. But there is an exception with this ‘anything goes’ mentality. In a scene in which the daughter is brought to a theater hall, she’s seated and watches as the image of her father is projected onto a screen. He shares his views and the one thing that will bring them all together in common bond: the creation of a ‘perfect’ existence.
Before we get to the message that he shares, things start off well intentioned between father and daughter. The father earnestly tries to show interest in her as she’s off to college soon. She is the typical spoiled teenager who exudes a sense of overconfidence and a know-it-all mentality. Finding no common ground with him or with the inhabitants of the countryside retreat, the daughter decides to venture into town. She runs in to a young man who immediately charms her. As it goes for many kids that age and during the summer, a relationship develops and she escapes her confines more and more to see him. This draws the ire of her father and what was once well intentioned turns into overbearing and controlling, to the point where you begin to wonder what’s really in store for the young girl.
In addition to the father’s message and exertion of control, other things take place which make you think that all is not going to turn out well with our main character: she has haunting dreams and flashbacks; a man outside her window is seen pleasuring himself; and just the very nature of the whimsical yet on edge demeanor of the followers. But things really come to a head when another series of flashbacks occur and she comes upon her father performing a fairly disturbing act.
When it’s found out that our young girl has met her summer fling for another rendezvous, the father puts his grand plan into motion. In a moment that is both shocking and deeply disturbing, any and all work that had been done in order to mend their relationship is violently and brutally destroyed as an extremely heinous act is performed.
The lasting effect that this act has on the audience, long after the credits roll, makes you think about the roles of parents in our lives. How we take them at their word. How we depend upon them to keep us safe. And how easy it is for them to exert influence and power. Even in the midst of being in a strange setting and surrounded by strange people, along with a father who was never really there for her, he still had a stranglehold on her which he used to his advantage in executing his all too sinister plan.
What Ms. Fies has constructed with The Commune is nothing short of incredible. The latest wave of independent horror films have really gotten back to the basics: character development, a compelling and original story, a building of genuine suspense and fear, with a striking and shocking ending (one which the audience doesn’t see coming) to boot. Her film is no exception. No over the top theatrics, no distracting special effects or action cuts which kill dialogue or momentum. Just a good ol’ fashion shocker. Isn’t that what true horror’s all about?
For more information about The Commune, check out the film’s website: http://www.thecommunemovie.com/
Also, Ms. Fies has started a monthly spotlight and showcase of women filmmakers and their works called Bleedfest. More information regarding that event can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/event.phpeid=120743591304169&ref=ts