Bummer. That was the first thought that sprung to mind after seeing Horsehead make its debut at Fantastic Fest. This was followed by: “That was all terrific fodder for a ’90s music video.” Because, visually, this feature debut from director Romain Bassett is an impressive, lush production that delivers on looking like a dream, however, it never delivers on its full potential to feel like one. To put it bluntly: It’s not as weird as it should’ve been.
The plodding story doesn’t help matters either; there’s very little palpable threat present (save for the eponymous dream creature, but even he seems easy to run from), moreover, there isn’t a ticking clock looming over the events so Horsehead is absent of any escalation. It simply exists…to look pretty, I suppose, and to allow Bassett to play with dream logic, but it’s all pretty on-the-nose. As is the drama.
Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux is Jessica, a young woman who returns home to her folks (mom is played by genre vet Catriona MacColl). Her grandmother’s death sets Jessica on a path that finds her exploring the nature of her dreams and the horseheaded monster that constantly pursues her – again, he doesn’t do much even when he’s in close proximity to her. He’ll peek his head through some curtains (Hello there!) or show off his fancy claws, but it doesn’t appear as if he represents an omnipresent danger. Jessica is told early on that she needs to find a key to unlock the mystery of her dreams, her past and perhaps some family drama involving her mother, her grandmother and grandfather (the latter because the subject of some unintentional humor).
Religion and mental disorders thematically run rampant across the smooth canvas that is Horsehead and nothing is ever subtle. It’s so goddamn literal and such a chore to get through, there’s little to no dramatic impact. A decent aesthetic effort on behalf of a first-time feature helmer? I suppose. But it feels like Bassett was fearful of taking this fever dream he set out to create to its ultimate limits. There are slivers – mere seconds – that may make you uncomfortable (there’s a scene of incest that will briefly make your skin crawl) and show promise, but they are fleeting.
All of this combined with some clunky dialogue make Horsehead – a film that looked really interesting thanks to this trailer – a disappointing experience.