Some films are more challenging to viewers than others; Isabella Eklöf’s Holiday is one that has to be approached with real caution. It’s a film suffused with mood, and dread, and the oppressive quality makes it one to avoid for the delicate of disposition. Male sexual violence is the subject, and for some, just that choice of focus will be enough to dissuade; reaching past the obvious provisos, Eklöf’s film manages to justify the contentious images on-screen, but it’s a close run thing at times.
Holiday takes a familiar location; the high-life of low-life crims in the Mediterranean sunshine. We’ve been here before, in Sweeney 2 or Sexy Beast, and Holiday has a similarly dark feel to Jonathan Glazer’s celebrated Pinter-riff. But there’s little comfort here; Victoria Carmen Sonne plays Sascha, a young woman who is the voluntary plaything of the violent Michael (Lai Yde). Michael deals drugs, and his social events are ones to avoid. Thomas (Thjis Romer) unwisely gets involved with the couple, and things end violently, although not quite as might be expected.
Holiday deals with events which shock; there’s a lengthy sexual assault scene that’s absolutely pivotal to the story, but even knowing the director’s intent, is still almost impossible to sit through. To what extent should we accept this as shining a light of a real social problem, or does the explicit quality of the scene push too far? Certainly, the comments on the imdb reviews board (never a great gauge of anything) suggest that few viewers were able to read the scenes as un-simulated, and that’s part of the film’s hard edge. This isn’t the kind of vapid exploitation that made, say Donkey Punch so revolting; Holiday’s sleek photography and natural acting palate disguise something more in the vein of a Lars Von Trier movie, specifically The Idiots or Breaking the Waves.
Provocation has become a bad word of late, and Holiday didn’t get the kind of free publicity that tabloids use to dish out. This release, on the Anti-Worlds banner of extreme art-hour releases, should do something to secure it’s on-going reputation. There’s more than a touch of Brett Eason Ellis’s trademark nihilism here, probably more realised than in the American author’s own films. For those who have the stomach for it, and this critic really had to wrestle with the off switch at times, this is a rewardingly tough drama with a hard feminist edge.
Holiday is released by Anti-Worlds from Feb 2020, and links for disc and blu-ray releases are supplied below.