The Red Spider (Czerwony pająk) (15th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival) Review
Kraków, 1968. Karol Kremer (Filip Pławiak) is a young man in his late teens living at home, and a talented diver, the best in the city. He is fascinated by the activities of a serial killer who is nicknamed “the red spider” and keeps a scrapbook on the subject. Then one day, he finds the corpse of one of the killer's victims lying behind a bush, and decides to track the culprit down…
However, The Red Spider (Czerwony pająk) doesn't follow the path you might have expected. It doesn't take Karol long to find the real killer, who turns out to be the local vet (Adam Woronowicz). Karol, who has started seeing local journalist Danka (Julia Klijowska) even poisons his family's dog so that he can speak to the man.
The film is based on a pair of real-life Polish serial killers: nineteen-year-old Karol Kot, who became one of the youngest people to be executed in the country, and the rather older Lucian Staniak. Writer/director/cinematographer Marcin Koszalka keeps Karol's motivations opaque, so we are left to guess at his motivation: an immature urge for attention, a desire to be something other than a perceived nobody, even if that means public ignominy and a probable death sentence? Does he want fame, one of a particularly perverse kind?
Koszalka is a prominent documentary maker (see below for details of a programme of his factual work in the Kinoteka Festival) here making his dramatic debut. The film is set mostly in winter with snow on the ground, and Koszalka's 35mm camerawork gives the city a cold feel, with pervasive browns to evoke period. The film has a chill to it that stays with you afterwards, though the lack of explanations of the characters' motivations may frustrate some. A short epilogue, set a decade afterwards, indicates that Karol and the unnamed vet may have got their wishes.
The Red Spider shows on 21 March at 6.30pm at the ICA, London, as part of the 14th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival, in the New Polish Cinema strand.
Also showing is a Film Focus on Marcin Koszalka at the ICA on 22 March at 8.20pm, comprising the short documentaries Such a Nice Boy I Gave Birth To, Till It Hurts, Declaration of Immortality and the feature-length User-Friendly Death.