‘The Girl With the Needle’ Review: Magnus von Horn and Vic Carmen Sonne Cast a Shattering Spell in Haunting Historical Drama

Cannes 2024: With a killer score and stunning visuals, this film descends into darkness

the-girl-with-the-needle
"The Girl with the Needle" (Cannes Film Festival)

From the opening moments of the delicately haunting film “The Girl With the Needle” (titled “PIGEN MED NÅLEN” in Danish), nightmarishly beautiful black-and-white visuals are made even more macabrely mesmerizing by a stellar score. Telling a tragic story of a woman trying to survive the casual cruelty of a society living in the shadow of World War 1, it is a subtly devastating experience that teeters on the edge of full-blown horror before diving all the way in. As you find yourself immersed in the film’s quiet terrors, it emerges as an evocative and unsparing work, facing down a gathering darkness that has the power to swallow you whole. Once it does, it begins to descend even further.

Premiering Wednesday evening in competition at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival, the latest film from director Magnus von Horn is his first to take us back in time. His past features have always been about more modern experiences, but this taps into something more terrifyingly timeless. In a screenplay he co-wrote with Line Langebek Knudsen, we get taken into the tumultuous life of Karoline as she finds herself trying to keep her head above water. 

Perfectly played with a visceral poise by Vic Carmen Sonne, she just can’t seem to catch a break. In the very first scene, she is getting evicted by her landlord who, despite hemming and hawing about how kind he is, is still throwing her out on the street. On top of that, her husband has gone missing while serving in the war. When she forms a relationship with her supposedly loving boss and becomes pregnant with his child, he too abandons her under familial pressure. 

This is then all changed when she meets the mysterious Dagmar, who runs a secretive adoption agency out of her candy store meant to ostensibly help women with no options. Played by a terrific Trine Dyrholm, she is a no-nonsense operator who still manages to win Karoline over. Though their relationship is initially transactional, it soon becomes something more thorny. Neither is perfect, but they seem to have found some shared understanding about the way the world functions. There is little salvation in life, but they may hope to maybe find it in the other.  

Very quickly, the duo’s lives become sewn together. Karolina steps into the role of both wet nurse and companion to Dagmar, nursing the babies that are left with them one day while going to the movies on another. It soon becomes clear that neither really has anyone else to turn to for help. Karoline does have a past that comes knocking, but Dagmar remains more impenetrable. She has a young girl she takes care of, but all else is hazy. When it gets brought into focus for Karoline, everything she has put her faith in may soon get washed away and drown her with it. 

Details on this revelation are best left vague to preserve the viewing experience, but there is a history the film is drawing from which may get picked up by those with knowledge of certain names. However, rather than being some sort of dreary historical drama, “The Girl With the Needle’ is a formally fascinating film with bold visuals and score worth praising.

Cinematographer Michal Dymek, who previously worked on the spectacular upcoming film “A Real Pain,” makes every frame into one that feels rich and alive even as death looms. The way even the most basic of settings, be they a confined apartment or a sinister stage performance in a tent, get captured here is nothing short of stunning. You can feel every facet of the world being built, ensuring everything proves suffocating even as it is beautiful to behold. When it dances away into the more ephemeral via a series of recurring shots of shifting faces, Dymek doesn’t miss a beat and, with great editing by Agnieszka Glinska, makes it all astounding. 

This is then made even more memorable by a propulsive and petrifying score by composer Frederikke Hoffmeier that splits apart everything on screen whenever it rises up. It is a score that demands you notice it and earns every moment, making the visuals feel like they’re being conjured up from the depths of somewhere even deeper in the psyche. Much like how Mica Levi has become known for crafting compositions that instill every frame with something distinctly and ethereally frightening, this is a score that feels like something entirely its own. Hoffmeier ensures everything is that much more haunting as every note carries spine-chilling resonance. 

When all of this then comes back to Dyrholm and Sonne, both are operating on just the right wavelength to ground these technical achievements in the emotions of their characters. Though it almost feels as though there could have been more time spent at the end letting things linger, the final moments we spend with them speaks volumes. Each embodies their characters fully and completely even as the film can hold them at a bit of a distance from us at key junctures. 

Much of this is necessary, as the key revelation can only land if we too are being kept in the dark, and the duo doesn’t let it stop them from getting us right into the very heart of each of them. When all is finally laid bare, the immense agony is grounded in two lost people in a life that itself feels like it is falling out of balance. They may find each other, but, as was inevitable in a world that had come to be defined by such suffering, the loss that follows is even greater. 

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.