The setting may be the temperate Aegean coastline, but the world depicted in Holiday – the feature debut from Swedish-born, Danish-educated director Isabella Eklöf – is anything but inviting. A cold and clinical study of male-spawned violence, it stars Victoria Carmen Sonne as Sascha, a slim, attractive girl who comes along for a luxury break with a Danish gangster, Michael (Lai Yde) and others, in a villa in Turkey.
Despite the plot being paper-thin, that’s not really the concern of Eklöf or her co-writer Johanne Algren. Here the camera is like a dispassionate observer, as we get to watch Michael lord it over his companions – most of who melt into the background as the focus hones in on Sascha. When she arrives at the airport, she’s given a slap in the face by Michael’s driver, after confessing she dipped into his funds. It’s not the last physical act of violence against her.
A film where a tremendous amount is left unspoken – Michael’s relationship with Sascha is unclear beyond the fact that he simply keeps her around to use and abuse – Eklöf offers her character a lifeline, when she runs into Thomas (Thijs Romer), a handsome Dutch yacht owner. They end up taking drugs on the beach, and you begin to wonder if Sascha sees him as an escape route.
Then Eklöf hits us with a shocking moment of utter depravity, as Michael wrestles Sascha to the cold, marble floor in the villa’s living room, and proceeds to rape her. Shown in one long, uncomfortable shot, it’s an explicit, hardcore sequence that has all the hallmarks of a scene by Michael Haneke or Gaspar Noé. While it’s tough to watch, it’s fundamental to the film’s central view on male aggression.
Needless to say, there will be retaliation, but not perhaps in the way you expect. Violence begets violence, and the weak will always be the victims – something Sascha clearly learns for the film’s final act. Eklöf’s film is an uncomfortable experience, not least because the reprehensible characters operate in a moral vacuum. But as a first feature by Eklöf, there can be no doubting the impressive qualities on show here.
Holiday opens on 2 August. For more details, visit Anti-Worlds Releasing.
Credit: Victoria Carmen Sonne appears in Holiday by Isabella Eklf.