Starring: Thorkild Roose, Lisbeth Movin, Preben Lerdorff Rye
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Running Time: 97 mins
Day Of Wrath (Vredens dag) is a Danish film about a young woman who marries an aged priest, but falls in love with his son as she becomes a target in a witch hunt in 17th Century Denmark.
From Carl Theodor Dreyer, the director of the legendary silent drama The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, comes a film that’s a decidedly dark and unsettling watch, landing you in the middle of the brutal era of witch hunts and puritanical theocracy, and although it may not thrill due to a painfully slow pace, it’s an engrossing and striking insight into an era of history that’s often overlooked on the big screen.
If there’s one thing that really stands out about this film, it’s just how authentic its portrayal of early 17th Century society appears to be. Of course, I have no first-hand experience of the era, but in comparison to the many period dramas over the years, there’s an earthy and dark realism to this film that makes it a far more striking and undoubtedly authentic representation of the time period.
In that, the sets and costumes are dull, plain and bland, with the characters spending most of the film inside cramped and dimly-lit stone buildings. The film never seeks to make the era more visually appealing for the sake of viewing pleasure, instead creating a striking and immersive portrayal that really stands out in the mind for a brutally dark representation of society at the time.
As a result, Day Of Wrath isn’t a comfortable watch by any means, and with the dark and earthy visuals comes an equally unsettling representation of the role of puritanical religion in society at the time. With a strong focus on an excessive emphasis on religious mythology in society, the film is critical of the conditions that led normal people to partake in witch hunts, and although it doesn’t dismiss the nature of religion, there’s an intriguing and deeply unnerving portrayal of just how far religious beliefs can go, as oppression reigns in the so-called name of the Lord.
There are some real parallels to Dreyer’s The Passion Of Joan Of Arc in that regard, with both films not only sharing a director and gritty brutalist visual style, but also a main theme that focuses on oppression, and although they offer wildly different perspectives on the nature of religion, it’s clear there is a real depth and drama to this film that harks back to the classic of silent cinema.
However, unlike The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, which is an absolutely electric cinematic experience, Day Of Wrath is unfortunately far too dull to really grab you with its story. There is definitely depth and intrigue here, and at moments, the film is really able to captivate you, however the biggest issue with it is that everything moves at far too slow a pace, and with a frustrating inevitability on the surface of the narrative throughout.
Even criticised at the time of its release for excessively slow pacing, Day Of Wrath just doesn’t have enough to really captivate you, in stark contrast to the non-stop thrills of The Passion Of Joan Of Arc. On top of that, the deliberately drab visuals, while working well to provide an authentic portrayal of 17th Century life, unfortunately add to the rather lethargic feel of the movie as a whole, and prove somewhat of an exhausting weight that makes it less than exhilarating to watch throughout.
Overall, Day Of Wrath is a film that doesn’t hold back from a uniquely authentic portrayal of a dark period in history, and although it backs that up with strikingly drab visuals, and an intriguing perspective on the role of religion in widespread oppression, it’s all just a little too heavy-going to prove entirely captivating, with an infuriatingly slow pace that makes the movie a really rather exhausting watch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.2.