Scandinavian horror is on the rise. It's not booming or taking over the world like the French managed a couple of years ago, still some very solid genre outings are coming from this relatively small cinematic region. Kollegiet (retitled Room 205 in the West) will probably not turn too many heads, but should you take the time to watch it you might be pleasantly surprised with the things Barnewitz puts on offer.
It's clear Norway isn't going to revolutionize the horror genre. They are mostly copying existing sub genres, seasoning them with a dash of Danish goodness. The Fritt Vilt series provided some quality slasher films, Kollegiet is a strong continuation of the Asian suspense wave. The influences are more than obvious, Barnewitz never even tries to hide it, but the execution is pretty much perfect.
If you see enough horror flicks, genre films like these do lose their power to scare. Barnewitz remains within the realm of the expected, so chances are you've seen this all before. But if you change your expectations a little you'll find that Kollegiet is quite atmospheric indeed. And even though it might not scare you, or the tension might be a little lacking, there is still plenty to enjoy.
The story is pretty classic. A young girl moves into a dorm and finds herself struggling to get on with the rest of the kids. On top of that, she gets strange visions, which somehow seem to tie in with a haunted room story floating around the building. There's ghosts, there's mirrors, there's hair ... everything you'd expect from an Asian suspense film.
One thing is clear, Barnewitz loves light. He plays with it in just about every scene, contrasting darkness with strong light sources, bleeding light in just about every frame. It gives the film a rather dreamy, sometime eerie atmosphere. This is heightened by the grainy look of some scenes, giving the film some extra grit where needed. The camera work is quite beautiful too, nice editing and delicate shots.
The soundtrack deserves the most praise though. Barnewitz doesn't only love to film light, he also likes the sound of it. He distorts the noise of simmering lightbulbs to create a very creepy effect during the more tense scenes. The sound effects come close to being an ambient soundtrack by themselves. The score itself is pretty pleasant too, a little edgy and ultimately crucial in setting up the atmosphere of the film.
Acting is decent enough, though nothing out of the ordinary. Slightly above average for a simple genre film like this, just don't expect any great performances. Most actors seem to be cast for their looks, acting skills being a distant second. Luckily not too much is expected from them, Barnewitz relies on his technical team to make Kollegiet work.
Some parts of the film feel a little rushed. The ending in particular is somewhat messy and a little sloppy. The characters feel too much at ease with their situation (sure there are ghosts living in mirrors) and the solution presents itself rather quickly, without too much hassle or pondering. There's no twist, just a simple conclusion of what came before. It's not really a personal critique, I didn't really mind myself, but I'm sure some people might be a little disappointed.
What makes Kollegiet work for me is the great combination of visuals and sounds, creating an eerie, somewhat dreamy atmosphere that is strong enough to carry the film. It's not really a winner combination for most people and if you demand to be scared by a horror film, this film will a lot less impressive I'm sure.
Still, Barnewitz execution is almost flawless and if you're still looking for some good Asian suspense fun, even though it comes from Denmark, Kollegiet is a pretty safe bet. Enter the world of the white-haired ghosts and you're set for 90 minutes of proper genre fun with a little extra is you appreciate the atmosphere as much as I did.