New Mongolian Horror Movie Review

Aberrance is the first Mongolian horror feature to get a theatrical release in the U.S.—a landmark moment for director and co-writer Baatar Batsukh, especially since this is his first feature. The film runs just 75 minutes, but fills that slender space with a suspenseful mystery that changes shape more than once.

The very first scene, showing us a woman frantically racing through a snowy forest, instantly establishes that Something Bad is going to happen. And an uneasy feeling clings to Erkhmee (Erkhembayar Ganbold) and Selenge (Selenge Chadraabal)—the woman from the flash-forward—as they settle into their temporary new home, a rustic two-story cabin. He’s overly protective to the point of what feels like abuse, keeping her locked inside, forcing meals on her, and nagging her about taking medication she clearly wants nothing to do with. She’s mercurial, mellow one minute and hysterical to the point of near-hyperventilation the next. She also has bruises that could be from her husband, who’s nearly twice her size.

These elements worry and puzzle not just the audience, but the couple’s closest neighbor; the area is mostly rural, but he’s close enough to hear screaming coming from their home, and isn’t shy about poking into their business. Further concerns are raised when Selenge’s friends visit and notice she’s looking especially fragile. What’s more, she has horrifying dreams—allowing Batsukh, an acclaimed cinematographer, to invade Aberrance’s muted color palette with nightmarish greens and reds.

Just when we’re starting to think we’ve got this story figured out, and that Erkhmee is a villain, Aberrance offers an explanation for both his and his wife’s behavior that’s maybe not as thoroughly explored as it could be, but opens the door for the film’s increasingly startling second act. All the pieces don’t fit together in the end—the climax feels rushed, and there’s one character in particular that could use way more fleshing out—but you will not guess the twist until Aberrance is good and ready to fill you in.

With such a stripped-down narrative, it’s hard for U.S. viewers to pick up on nuances that might make Aberrance feel like a specifically Mongolian horror story, aside from times when the characters make small talk about Mongolian hospitality. But horror fans can appreciate that while the cultural context may change, frights are universal—and it’s always welcome when a new international perspective on the genre breaks through.

Image: Freestyle Digital Media

Aberrance had its North American premiered at the 2023 South by Southwest Film and TV Festival; it is in theaters now and will have a VOD and digital release in 2024.

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