Day of Wrath Movie Review
Day of Wrath is a 1943 historical drama film directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and starring Lisbeth Movin. It is such a great, atmospheric and very intriguing picture.
It is set in 1623 and follows a young woman named Anne who is married to an old pastor, but is in love with his son. The pastor has just sent a woman to death on the charge of being a witch, but Anne’s mother was also accused of witchcraft before her death. The film has a great subject matter that always fascinated me and it explores it very well. The beginning is a bit slow, but the sequences with Herlof’s Marte are so good with the burning scene being very intense.
And although the second half does not deal with the theme of witchcraft as much as the first half, I still loved the second half because it is such a great family drama with excellent conflicts and one extremely memorable scene. I am of course talking about the scene where Anne says to Absalon that she wishes him dead and confesses his love to Martin. The scene ends with Absalon dying and you are left pondering whether she truly is a witch and cursed him or he died due to a shock of betrayal. The logical and more likely answer is the latter one. However, Absalon says that he, while away, experienced “the touching of death itself” at the exact time when Anne talked to Martin and confessed having wished his father dead. That is a such a strong evidence towards her actually being a witch which was such an interesting development that I really hadn’t seen coming.
But Day of Wrath remains ambiguous in its storyline and beautifully so as this is one of the finest examples of ambiguity done right and to the fullest advantage to the film’s storytelling. It works perfectly because the entire film is fueled with such a mysterious, eerie tone to it that it grabs you and never lets go. I was enthralled by the film from start to finish and though it might be slow to some, this was to me a perfect example of a slow movie that is not just slow for the sake of being slow, but for the sake of creating tension. And it was always very involving to me and the atmosphere in particular is just phenomenal.
I liked all of the characters despite them not being as fully realized as I wanted them to be. Absalom is excellent and his conflict and evident doom led to such a tragic character. Martin was also good and the relationship between him and Anne is well realized. Anne is excellent and such a mysterious, very well utilized character. But I found Merete to be a problematic character. Yes, she is interesting, but still typical with her hatred towards Anne having been seen countless times before. And she never really said anything truly of substance and meaning which bothered me.
The acting is really good with Lisbeth Movin being particularly good as she wonderfully played that mysterious nature of the protagonist. The directing from Carl Theodor Dreyer is terrific and he is such a great director. Day of Wrath isn’t on the level of greatness of his ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’, but it is still a film with similar subject matter and with a similar intense approach to it.
I loved the natural scenery as well and the cinematography is really good in this film. The dialogue is also pretty good and some lines are memorable and the film is always slow, but so dramatic regardless. It is wonderfully edited with never a dull or rushed moment and, as I said before, the pacing is slow, but to me that is the strength here as it is fitting for this kind of film. I loved how the film ended as well. I also loved that it was small in scope and focused on just one family as that led to a much more mature and intimate drama. I just wish that the beginning was more interesting and that Merete was better utilized, but this is for the most part such an eerie, wonderfully executed film that is one of the best movies of 1943.