Marcin Koszałka’s Red Spider, awarded in Arras and Cairo, is a fascinating thriller about discovering and domesticating evil.
In his first feature film, Koszałka tells the story of a serial killer who filled Kraków with horror in the 1960s. His inspiration was the life of the so-called ‘Vampire from Kraków’, one of the youngest serial killers in the world. Koszałka didn’t make a biography though, but a movie about how evil is born, about sick passion and the craving for fame. The director based the plot on two intense roles: Karol Kremer (Filip Pławiak) is a young boy from a bourgeois family, while the inconspicuous veterinarian (Adam Woronowicz) hides his real self from the world. A casual meeting of the two will change the teenager’s life, making him discover his dark side.
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Marcin Koszałka’s cinema-therapy
Marcin Koszałka’s films all have a trace of psychotherapy in them. In the documentaries he realized before this feature film debut, he always spoke about himself, about his fears and weaknesses. He didn’t hesitate to scratch his wounds, fought his demons and exorcised them through the camera. Even when, in 2012, he shot You’ll be a Legend, Man, a documentary about the Polish football team, he spoke about his toxic relationship with his parents, the same one he described in Such A Beautiful Son I gave birth to and Let’s Run Away from Her. In Red Spider, once again he speaks of the family as the source of suffering.
His camera enters the main protagonist’s apartment. It’s a young boy, fascinated with crime. It watches his overprotective mother (a good role by Małgorzata Foremniak) and his weak father (Marek Kalita) whom the family doesn’t respect. The apartment in the townhouse in Kraków is reminiscent of Marek Koterski’s The House of Fools: a stuffy space filled with frustration and mutual grievances.
Koszałka’s protagonist tries to escape this trap. He looks for strong emotions. A meeting with a serial killer is a chance for him – it allows him to touch something truly extreme. Drawing the portrait of the young Karol Kremer, Koszałka speaks of hidden, dangerous desires, of a fascination with death, evil and violence. ‘We’re all Kremers’, says the director of Red Spider. Again – like in the documentary Declaration of Immortality – he speaks of the need of breaking down barriers, of death (this was the subject of The Existence about the dying actor Jerzy Nowak) and about the human fascination with evil, which was a subject of The Lust Killer. The director borrows whole shots from his documentaries – we see mouldy arcades from You’ll Be a Legend, Man, as well as underwater shots, similar to those from The Lust Killer.
Koszałka choses subjects that are important to him, but keeps his distance from the characters. His camera is impassive, watches young Karol and his idol without showing emotion. There’s no naïve psychology in Red Spider. Koszałka doesn’t explain their motivation, doesn’t accuse nor justify them. He’s not interested in giving out moral diplomas, but in the mechanism which pushes men towards evil. ‘If there's one thing you can say about mankind, there's nothing kind about man’, said Tom Waits, and his words could be the motto of Koszałka’s film. The artist from Kraków explores the magnetism of evil, crime as a sublimation of a drive.
Even though Red Spider
is Koszałka’s first feature film, it shows him to be a conscious artist who knows himself and his craft. The director draws from different genres, but breaks the rules and doesn’t follow the schemes. He’s made a thriller about a serial killer, but we can’t expect a classic duel between the bad guy and the cop. Red Spider
’s suspense doesn’t come from the fact that someone is hunting the characters, but from the idea that the protagonists themselves are their own enemies. The worst evil is hidden in a young boy, who craves excitement and fame, and in a modest veterinarian, who hides his psychopathic personality behind thick glasses and a toupee.
World represented, world accused
Red Spider impresses with its images. Koszałka, a cinematographer by trade, stood behind the camera, to recreate 1960’s Kraków. It’s a rotten, corroding, smelly place. Instead of pretty pictures of the Old Town, Koszałka proposes a vision of the city which is grey, foggy and crushed..
It’s not only an aesthetic choice – the gloomy reality which surrounds the protagonists is one of the accused. The greyness of the world is what pushes them to look for extremes. They search for them in sports, watching circus stunts and during their nighttime walks around the city. In the world depicted by Koszałka, everybody is looking for an escape from deadlock, for the possibility of something moving. It’s not a coincidence, that in the characters’ apartment we hear the news about the ‘extreme’ concert of The Rolling Stones in Warsaw’s Sala Kongresowa, and also about the excursion of Polish Himalayan mountaineers to K2.
In his fascinating thriller, Koszałka accuses society. He shows a world in which fame – even if it lasts only a second – is one of the biggest values and recognition from the media can be achieved only doing something extreme. Karol Kremer is a child of this world, its rotten fruit. It’s hard to like him, easier to judge him. But are we allowed to do this? The director asks this question without giving a clear answer. His Red Spider is a film with no obvious punchlines, original and extremely intense.
- Czerwony Pająk / Red Spider Director and cinematographer: Marcin Koszałka, screenplay: Marcin Koszałka, Łukasz M. Maciejewski, starring: Filip Pławiak, Adam Woronowicz, Julia Kijowska, Marek Kalita, Wojciech Zieliński, Małgorzata Foremniak, Przemysław Bluszcz.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated by N. Mętrak-Ruda, November 2015.