Cannes film shocks with fairy-tale horror on abortion

Von Horn (third from right) and his team brought Cannes a fairy-tale horror (Sameer Al-Doumy)
Von Horn (third from right) and his team brought Cannes a fairy-tale horror (Sameer Al-Doumy)

An early entry in the Cannes film competition has taken Cannes spectators down a dark path of unwanted motherhood to a shop of horrors with a serial killer twist.

Swedish director Magnus Von Horn's "The Girl With the Needle" -- one of 22 movies vying for the top Palme d'Or prize -- is at times so hard to watch that several viewers walked out of the screening.

Von Horn told AFP he drew on his and his wife's personal experience of aborting a terminally ill foetus and wanted to explore "what happens to society when you take away the freedom of choice".

Critics have given the black-and-white film excellent reviews, with The Guardian calling it "a macabre and hypnotic horror", and Deadline describing it as "a poetic and dark fairy tale".

Von Horn, the father of two children, said he had always wanted to explore his own fears in a horror film.

"I've always wanted to make a horror, a horror of my own," the 40-year-old said.

"It's the fear that something will happen to my child."

- 'Freedom of choice' -

The film follows wilful but penniless factory worker Karoline (Vic Carmen Sonne) trying desperately to end a pregnancy in Copenhagen at the end of World War I, after an affair with her boss.

In a city of cold muddy streets, she smuggles a knitting needle into a public bath, where she meets a charismatic older woman (Trine Dyrholm) who runs an underground adoption agency from her sweet shop.

Fuelled by an anxiety-inducing score and full of awful, breath-stopping moments, the film is loosely based on the true story of a Danish woman serial killer.

Its plot dives deep into questions about motherhood, women's choices and monsters.

Abortion is a key issue in this year's US presidential election after the Supreme Court in 2022 overturned the half-century-old nationwide right to the procedure, with each state now determining its own policy.

Poland, where Van Horn has lived for 18 years, effectively banned terminations while he was writing the script.

He said it would be "impossible" for him and his wife to have the abortion now.

But their experience helped give nuance to the script, which he developed over five years.

"We also had a certain amount of regret and doubt -- an experience that goes beyond our political convictions. I didn't expect it," he added.

- 'Romantic comedy'? -

After two previous features about an influencer and a former juvenile delinquent, Von Horn said he wanted to make a period horror film "all about women".

"World War I is in the shadows but there's a different war going on on the home front," he said.

"In the end Karoline goes through something that makes her as PTSDed as her husband who has been in the trenches," he said.

To tell this terrible tale, shot in 30 days in Poland, Van Horn's team had to enlist the help of a very young team of actors -- some just a month old.

"We always had to have two babies on set because if one is feeling hungry, grumpy or doesn't want to sleep, you have to have a backup," said the director, adding their mothers were on set and "very helpful".

But for his next film, Von Horn said he would probably try a different genre.

"I would like to make a romantic comedy as well," he said.

ah/amz/yad