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THE DEVIL'S BATH Review: A Harrowing 18th-Century Examination

Courtesy Shudder

By Sarah Musnicky

THE DEVIL'S BATH (Des Teufels Bad) is not a film for casual viewing. Diving deep into the realm of depression and suicide, writer-director duo Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala craft a bleak and honest portrayal of the maddening grip depression brings in an environment ill-equipped to handle these changes. Set in 18th-century Austria, THE DEVIL'S BATH is an exercise in waiting for the inevitable. Major trigger warnings for animal death, suicide, and self-harm for those who need it.

With a cold opening establishing the "suicide by proxy" cases the team is pulling from, viewers are introduced to newlyweds Agnes (Anja Plaschg) and Wolf (David Scheid). Martin Gschlacht's cinematography here paints a picture of a hopeful future amidst the opening scene's gloom. Agnes, in particular, revels in devout innocence, all smiles before the reality of her marriage sets in. As she discovers, her new home and wifely duties are not what they seem.

Her husband, while caring in his own way, refuses to sleep with her. Unfortunately, one of Agnes' responsibilities is to have children, something her mother-in-law (Maria Hofstätter) makes clear throughout the course of the film. Further perpetuating things is how little Agnes is able to satisfy her mother-in-law. Everything she does is wrong, and in her attempts to try to help Agnes, things get worse. With nowhere to turn to except God, Agnes is isolated in her struggles.

Gschlacht's camera hones in on the feeling of isolation. While the village itself is small, the natural environment of the forest and river facilitates the further feeling of being trapped. Agnes has nowhere to go. And, with the lens focused on the 18th century, the treatment of her poor mental decline is as expected. Foreshadowing paints a clear picture long before Agnes even dares to dream of absolution.

THE DEVIL'S BATH runs more the way of drama than the horror originally touted to be. This is a realistic, grounded approach to the subject matter, which, arguably, may be the horror element viewers will seek. The elements that come together to foster an environment that makes Agnes' plight possible itself is the horror and something that many will resonate with in relation to their own struggles.

However, despite its refreshingly frank approach to this particular time in history, Franz and Fiala craft a film that slogs as much as Agnes does through the Rhine. An argument can be made that the pacing and speed reflect the suffocating pull into the depths of Agnes' melancholia. In that, this could be its saving grace. But, it is a pace and speed in which it demands much patience from the viewer that may or may not pay off in the end.

THE DEVIL'S BATH is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for those who prefer a faster pace. It is an unapologetic examination of a still-lingering taboo, one that is unlikely to be shrugged off any time soon by our society. For the horror crowd, it is a tricky film to classify due to its grounded approach. But, the subject matter makes its argument for why it can be allocated to the genre.

THE DEVIL'S BATH is now playing on Shudder.


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