One of the best parts of film festivals is being exposed to foreign films, especially those from countries many audience members might never have seen a film from. This year’s Overlook Film Festival brought audiences an all new thriller from Mongolia called Aberrance. This is the first Mongolian film to grace the silver screen at the Overlook Film Festival. Aberrance was directed by Baatar Batsukh, making his directorial debut, who also wrote the film along with Byambasuren Ganbat and Erdene Orosoo (Kinsman of the Sun).
Aberrance follows a couple with a strained relationship as they arrive at a remote cabin in the wilds of Mongolia. The plan is to spend time in the fresh air, away from the chaos of the city and other distractions. What begins as an idyllic getaway quickly spirals out of control thanks to rising tension between the couple, a nosy neighbor, less than helpful friends, and secrets come to light.
At first, it might take audiences a while to get their bearings as Aberrance begins. The filmmakers throw the audience into the cabin along with the couple, with almost no context regarding who these people are or why they’re here. Very slowly, the layers are pulled back, but the revelations are done in such a way that it only reveals half-truths. Slowly but surely, the pieces begin to fit together. As everything comes to light, the reveals take on a snowball effect, careening out of control into bigger and more shocking twists. It’s a very effective way to build tension and suspense. The audience is constantly kept guessing, never getting the full picture until the credits finally roll.
Many viewers are sure to be confused throughout much of Aberrance. While this might be off-putting to some, the payoff at the end of the film, in my opinion, makes it worth the journey. The filmmaker is intentionally keeping things from the audience, not only to keep everyone at the edge of their seat, but to make each new discovery that much more impactful. I will say there are certain cultural aspects of the film that might come across as somewhat baffling, but the overall experience is still well done.
Aberrance features a wonderful cast, many of whom are relatively new to acting. Selenge Chadraabal (Six Feet) is wonderful starring as the young wife, Selenge. At first, Selenge seems like a meek young woman, even sometimes coming across as fearful and sickly. Chardraabal performs this side of the character well, but it’s the moments when her personality shifts into something different that she truly shines. She is able to entirely change how the audience perceives Selenge, sometimes even just with a simple look. Erkhembayar Ganbat makes his acting debut as the husband, Erkhme, and Yalalt Namsrai (The Steed) plays the neighbor. Both of these men, much like Chadraabal, do a wonderful job of changing the audience’s perception of their characters throughout the film. The way Ganbat and Namsrai play their characters from scene to scene shifts, making it unclear what their true intentions are.
One very interesting aspect of this film is the cinematography and camera work. Aberrance features a number of very unique shots. Between pivoting cameras and a healthy dose of SnorriCam footage, there is a lot to catch the eye. The filmmakers seem to have made it so each scene either disorients the viewer or creates a chaotic energy to add to the tension. Aberrance also boasts some very subtle, but well executed makeup effects to create various wounds and bruises that look all too real.
Aberrance is a thrilling puzzle, taking the audience on a suspenseful journey as each piece reveals shocking twists and disturbing turns. Batsukh holds nothing back with this feature-film debut, taking many chances with his filmmaking style to bring this tense story to life. While the plot may take a bit to find its footing, it culminates in a tight, well thought-out mystery as everything falls into place. With a compelling plot, dynamic performances, and eye-catching camera work, there is a lot to enjoy about this film. For many, Aberrance will be the first Mongolian film they’ve ever seen, and it is a truly impressive introduction for American audiences.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10