Apparently, The Man in the Orange Jacket is Latvia’s first ever horror film. The country may be late to the party, but boy oh boy they’ve come out swinging. Clocking in at a fat-free 71 minutes, this nearly dialogue-free psychological slasher goes for the throat early and often, treading into territory so pitch-black that it caused a couple of walkouts at the London Film Festival. What atrocity was it that disgusted these people so much? Well, let’s see…
Within the first couple of minutes of the film we’ve seen a brutal double murder. A capitalist fatcat boss is sat in his plush bedroom, explaining to his trophy wife how laying off so many workers has stressed him out. She reassures him that a sunny holiday in Italy will wash those worries away. Then she screams. There’s a man sitting in the room, and he’s wearing an orange hi-vis jacket.
He wordlessly approaches the terrified couple and pulls out a hammer. *THWACK!* The rich man’s mouth flaps like a fish out of water as he collapses onto the silk sheets, blood gently pooling behind his head. The orange jacketed man then stands up and listens for the pitter-patter of feet on the marble floors. He pursues her through the house and just as she thinks she’s out of danger… *THWACK!*
The killer wraps the couple in plastic sheeting, dumps them in the basement and proceeds to move into their opulent mansion. He eats their food, drinks their booze, wears their clothes and sleeps in their bed. We watch him silently exploring every inch of the place in a dressing gown, playing at being a rich man. As he explores, things gradually begin to get weirder; strange figures are glimpsed in upstairs windows, a mysterious man visits asking about a knife and our killer begins to suffer psychotic visions.
Writer/Director Aik Karapetian has stripped horror right back to the bare essentials here. His script completely forgoes exposition and does without dialogue for tens of minutes at a time. What remains is moody, overbearing atmosphere, the mansion becoming increasingly reminiscent of The Overlook Hotel in Kubrick’s The Shining. The killer explores it at the same pace the camera does, drinking in the luxurious surroundings and stopping for close-ups of paintings, furniture or bedsheets.
This careful cinematic style, coupled with the broadly drawn characters, all but demands to be interpreted as allegory. The basic narrative of a disenfranchised industrial worker seizing the riches of his boss and being corrupted in the process inevitably invites a Marxist reading. These events reflect the classic dangers of revolution; or as Roger Daltrey famously put it, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Our killer’s fatal flaw is to unthinkingly repeat the mistakes of the past. In revolutionary terms, the slaughter of the boss, though unpleasant, is necessary in order to liberate the reins of industry and create a just economic situation for the exploited proletariat. However, by acting alone and behaving selfishly, the worker quickly becomes that which he once despised, losing the drive for social reform in his lust for bourgeois luxuries.
The longer he remains in the house the more it corrupts him, culminating in a deeply disturbing sequence where he orders two prostitutes and sadistically abuses them; the film woozily entering hallucinatory psychosis as he slips into graphic fantasises of murder and sexual molestation. This is nasty stuff that made me feel genuinely uneasy (and slightly guilty) just for watching. These images also marked the breaking point for some people in the audience, muttering to themselves as they trooped from the cinema without a glance back.
What saves The Man in the Orange Jacket from being simple exploitation is the blunt political messaging. This is a symbolic kind of horror, the disgust we feel representative of the disgust we should feel when confronted with economic injustice. Knowing this doesn’t exactly make it easier to watch, but it’s reassuring to know that there’s a point to this misery.
You can count most of the characters in the film on one hand and most of them are dispatched pretty quickly. This leaves Maxim Lazarev, as the titular Man, to carry the film. He plays the role with detached creepiness, layering in a weirdly innocent streak underneath the sadism. For most, the character himself is performing and it’s the moments where he ‘fluffs his lines’ that are most fascinating.
His demeanour in the house can be summarized as ‘cargo cult bourgeois.’ He quaffs wine while tinkling tunelessly on a grand piano, suspiciously prods haute cuisine with his fingers before stuffing it in his mouth and looks like a child in his father’s suit when he plays dress up. We never really empathize with him (not that we want to), but he’s so deranged that it sustains our interest. We might not want this guy to succeed, but his failure is certainly going to be fun to watch.
If you’re in the mood for experimental, cruel and bloody horror with a political streak a mile wide then The Man in the Orange Jacket is a must watch. This is my cup of tea, and though I can’t say I enjoyed every one of these 71 minutes, they certainly gave me a lot of intellectual gristle to chew on.
The Man In The Orange Jacket is a disturbing and sadistic Marxist nightmare. If that description sounds appealing, then you're in for a treat.
The Man In The Orange Jacket [LFF 2014]