The Winter is not a ghost story, or a love story, or a horror story: it's a black hole of disengagement.
The WinterDirector: Konstantinos Koutsoliotas
Cast: Theo Albanis, Vangelis Mourikis, Efi Papatheodorou
Distributor: IndiePix Films
Studio: Melancholy Star
UK Release Date: 2016-03-16
US Release Date: 2016-03-16
There are ghosts in The Winter, but it’s not a ghost story. There’s a love interest, but it’s not a love story. There are unexplained figures, nightmarish visions, and descents into madness, but it’s not a horror story either. In fact, I’m not sure The Winter is much of a story at all.
The film centers on a Greek young man named Niko (Theo Albanis) who attempts to make a living in London as a writer. Niko has accumulated thousands of Euros in debt, and in a clever touch, the film’s opening credits are written on the piles of bills that are strewn across his apartment floor. He decides to return to his hometown of Siatista in rural Greece and hide out in his father’s abandoned house.
What follows can be best described as a man’s gradual break from reality. The house is dusty, cobwebby, and cold. There’s no electricity, and Niko’s use of candles and lanterns heightens the whole “haunted house” vibe. Niko spends his uneventful days attempting to finish a novel as debt collectors inundate his phone with messages, and interspersed within these sequences are flashbacks to Niko as a young boy living in the house with his parents.
There are elements of an interesting film in The Winter: a son who cannot help but follow in the footsteps of his broken father, a small rural village full of secrets, a gnawing sense of dread from threats both physical and spiritual. But the film moves at such a glacial pace that I couldn’t help but check my watch every ten minutes or so. Make no mistake, I’ve no problem with slow movies or movies where “nothing happens”. I’ve sat through and enjoyed movies like Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008), which had a five-minute static shot of a janitor mopping up urine.
So what is it about The Winter that left me so unengaged? Part of the problem lies in its black hole of a protagonist. Albanis gives a fine performance with the material given, but Niko is so passive and ghostlike that he doesn’t make much of an impression. Maybe that was the point, but having a non-entity for a protagonist doesn’t make for very interesting viewing.
Another problem is that The Winter’s various forays into the supernatural don’t really amount to anything. Writer-director Konstantinos Koutsoliotas is primarily a visual effects artist and animator (he runs a CGI studio called Melancholy Star), and there are several fantastical sequences that showcase his talent in those fields. Again, I’ve no problem with ambiguity or loose ends, but The Winter seems to include its weird fantasy segments for the sake of weirdness.
Koutsoliotas has said in interviews that The Winter is passion project, and that he spent several years and racked up a ton of debt to create his film. I admire the creators of The Winter and their independent spirit, though I can’t say that I admire their film.