January (2023)

Director: Andrey M Paounov

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Certification: 12

Starring: Samuel Finzi, Iossif Surchadzhiev, Zachary Baharov, Leonid Yovchev, Svetoslav Stoyanov, Borislav Chouchkov, Malin Krastev

Inspired by Yordan Radichkov's play, January, director Andrey M Paounov and co-writer Alex Barrett craft a unique black & white tale of icy isolation. Viewers are introduced to The Porter (Samuel Finzi), using a mechanism to crack walnuts while completing a crossword with the Old Man (Iossif Surchadzhiev). Accompanied by a dog and a caged bird, the pair are trapped within a remote hut in the midst of a snowstorm.

They await the return of Petar Motorov, a man who disappeared into the woods heading into town. The men didn't see him leave, just the footprints he left in the snow. Despite not appearing, Petar's presence looms over things as more men arrive with an interest in his whereabouts. Underlying tensions rise as each man wants something, while being wary of what unknown beasts lurk within the woods.

As the runtime passes by, an increasing number of frozen wolves are repeatedly discovered outside, just part of the striking imagery and effective moments the film delivers. What it all means is another question, as context and subtext feel out of reach. Is it a frozen journey through purgatory? An isolated nightmare resulting from cabin fever? A dog's dream? Consider me none the wiser. Not helping matters is the slow-burn nature combined with a too-long runtime, leaving the pacing to be an acquired taste that may battle one's waning attention.

There's shades of Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse to this tale, as men trapped within a remote location battle the madness lurking inside. Able performances are on-hand to bring alive this tale, particularly Finzi's Porter who's driven by the promise of Petar's return, repeating it to hold onto the hope that he has not been abandoned. By the time he's wandering around an empty building holding an axe, seeing twins apparate, it's clear The Shining was an influence. All of this makes for something interesting, although one senses a stronger film lurking within.

January is available in Cinemas and on Digital from 27th January