Review: Videoman – Out of time with not much to define it

  • Videoman is part of HOME's FilmFear season
  • More of a drama than a horror
  • Plot was too repetetive and really dragged

Videoman is a 2018 Swedish horror-drama film directed by Kristian A. Söderström and starring Stefan Sauk and Lena Nilsson. It is part of the FilmFear horror film season at HOME, in the lead up to Halloween.

Ennio (Sauk) is an alcoholic VHS collector, who, with no job in the current film market, is about to be evicted from his flat. His fortunes appear to change when he acquires a rare VHS worth 10,000 euros, from Simone (Nilsson) who later becomes his lover. However, after the tape is mysteriously stolen, his life starts to become very strange.

Still from Videoman
Stefan Sauk and Victor von Schirach in Videoman

Videoman had every chance to be a really creepy and unsettling film. There is something sinister about outdated technology and the poor production values of 80s horror films that the main character enjoys fall into the uncanny valley. Throw in an urban legend, mysterious disappearances and the unforgiving backdrop of wintry Sweden and you’ve got a fine recipe for a suspenseful, frightening movie.

Sadly, though, the film spends more of its runtime focussing on the mundanity of the main characters’ lives. Both Ennio and Simone have turned to the bottle to drown out their lives being objectively better in the past. Ennio used to run the ‘best video store in Sweden’ before VHS became obsolete and Simone is in a dead-end job and bullied by her boss; the best years of her life taken away by raising her daughter as a single mother.

The film’s main problem is it does not know what it wants to be. A drama about two alcoholics meeting and beginning to transform each others’ lives is a fine idea for a story, but it’s too dissonant compared to the more suspenseful and creepy horror elements.

I found myself drawn into the film in one of its darker moments, only to be bored by Simone’s attempts to get likes on Instagram for the following five minutes.

Still from Videoman
Lena Nilsson in Videoman

The performances from the main cast are all flawless. It’s a shame that most of the characters are irritatingly horrible, but I should give the actors credit where it’s due, especially to Sauk, who portrays the high-functioning but socially awkward Ennio to point where he is completely believable.

The film had a problem with its pacing too. Ennio would spend a while frantically searching for his missing VHS tape, stalked by mysterious mask-wearing ne’er-do-wells, clearly frightened for his life and then he would apparently forget about his search for the day to go and drink with Simone while they moaned about their lives.

The film did not need to be broken up like this. In 15 minutes, it was apparent that the two main characters led dysfunctional lives due to their alcoholism and inability to fit in, and were angry at the universe as a result. To keep going back to this same motif throughout the film, felt about as subtle as a piledriver and vice versa, Ennio’s continued efforts to find the film, suddenly to be cut off were equally frustrating.

Still from Videoman
Martin Wallstrom in Videoman

I get the feeling with Videoman that the director wanted to create an homage to a bygone era and tried to combine that with a nostalgia for 80s horror, but was not too invested in either. The main characters’ snobbery over the eras they fantasised about made it feel like the director had contempt for the audience for not appreciating his favourite era of cinema, rather than inviting them to join in with it.

Compare this film to Stranger Things, the Netflix sci-fi horror series set in the 80s. Both have creepy atmospheres, both have dysfunctional characters learning, or having learned that life doesn’t go the way you want it to. Stranger Things, however, celebrates its influences and, despite its horror, makes you want to be there; living in that time.

Videoman’s assertions that the 80s were better rather than inviting me to make my own mind up, leave me rather cold and somewhat glad that the past has passed. 4/10.

Poster from Videoman
If only the film was as good as its poster