The promo for this year’s edition of Sweden’s Göteborg Film Festival stands out for a couple of reasons: one being the festival’s historic predilection for stunts. This year, it’s planning to hypnotise its entire audience, while previous editions have seen a viewer spend a week alone in a lighthouse watching back-to-back films and people watching horror films in a tomb.
The other reason the campaign, created by Swedish agency Stendahls, has got people talking is thanks to its cornucopia of references from cinema history. Some are fairly obvious, many others less so; but it’s certainly fun to try and pick them out in the fast-paced, dizzying short – and it doubles as a canny advertising technique, since it forces you to watch to the end, again and again.
David Lynch’s films – namely Fire Walk With Me, Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet (as well as possibly Eraserhead in the moment the older gent character’s hair stands on end, as if frazzled by static) – feel like the most obvious homage.
The colours used – all sumptuous reds and velvety tones – call to mind the Italian Giallo horror films, such as Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Argento’s use of red, and colour more generally, is used to similar effect in the festival promo: acting as plot point as much as tool. Suspiria’s eerie, almost sickly vibrancy is thanks to the fact it was shot on standard Eastman Kodak colour film stock but was printed using the then-antiquated three-strip Technicolor process (used most famously in The Wizard of Oz) via one of the last machines in the world with that facility.
When it comes to hints of Gilalo in Stenahls’ promo, according to the film tutor who helped us out with a lot of the film-spotting, more pertinent nods are to the work of Mario Bava, who worked as a special effects artist as well as a cinematographer and director, hence his distinctive style of filmmaking.
In that vein, many of the touchpoints in the promo are pitched towards horror, or at least unease: there’s certainly a sense of the surreal dream sequences in Polanski films such as The Tenant, Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby (a direct nod to the latter could be in the weird animal masks that crop up at one point) and Kubrick films (most prominently The Shining’s famous hotel corridors). More generally, trauma is communicated via references to German Expressionism: Robert Wiene’s 1920 classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is pertinent both stylistically and in the film’s hypnosis themes.
A more contemporary director reference that seems to be visible throughout the short is Lynne Ramsay. In many of her films, perhaps most obviously in Morvern Callar and You Were Never Really Here, she uses an unusually low camera so that shots are framed to avoid seeing people’s faces. This technique chimes with the weird dream-like sense of the festival short, where avoiding facial recognition suggests a struggle to recall things as they are.
Stendahls’ spot features certain visual motifs that veer in and out of the festival ad: one is a red balloon, which many have attributed to It, but which has its roots in the 1956 French film The Red Balloon, and is also referenced in Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, among countless others. Likewise the animal mask idea has numerous antecedents – Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, 1973’s The Wicker Man, and most obviously, Donnie Darko.
Many have cited the ‘red pill blue pill’ moment as relating to The Matrix, though Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall got there first, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s doctor prescribes him a red pill as a “symbol for your desire to return to reality”.
The homages are verbal as well as visual: the eagle-eared will spot quotes from Saw in the hypnotist from the promo’s opening lines, as well as 1997 Spanish film Open Your Eyes (remade as Vanilla Sky).
Elsewhere, more fleeting references are made to Hausu (the eyeball in mouth moment), Black Swan and Gaspar Noe in the use of wandering steadicam techniques.
Since the 2022 festival is anchored to the idea of hypnosis, it makes sense that this is also central to the promo. Much of the trailer leans on Spellbound, the 1945 film from Alfred Hitchcock that saw the director hire Salvador Dalí to conceive certain scenes in the film’s key dream sequence. In a more campy vein, The Exorcist 2 has been dubbed ‘psychotronic cinema’ thanks to its ‘synchronised hypnosis’ machine plotline; while it could be suggested that Stendahls had seen 1980 American horror Night of the Demon, with its dark, Bigfoot-related hypnosis plot.
The festival’s hypnosis theme is a response to the closure of cinemas thanks to the pandemic, according to organisers. “Watching a film in the cinema can be extremely hypnotic,” said Göteborg artistic director Jonas Holmberg. “At home, with a tablet, it is much harder to maintain the focus you need to get really absorbed by a film. The Hypnotic Cinema is both a tribute to and an extension of the experience of watching films at the movie theatre.”
The Göteberg Film Festival takes place from January 28-February 6; goteborgfilmfestival.se