An old-fashioned slasher-film, sans irony or in-jokes, “Drowning Ghost” delivers what it promises as the body count mounts at an elite private school. The name of helmer Mikael Hafstrom, whose “Evil” got a best foreign film Academy Award nom, should help to draw more attention than usual to a non-Anglo genre movie. Fest platforming (“Evil” played Toronto) should help “Ghost’s” progress in foreign markets.
Hellestad is a private school for the well-heeled, somewhere in the Swedish countryside. While the headmistress (Kerstin Steinbach) makes a speech about the privileges of class, a girl jumps to her death from a roof. Strange things have been going on at the school for years, with murders, disappearances and mysterious deaths.
One year later, a student, Sara (Rebecka Hemse), is researching the truth about the myth of the Drowning Ghost. Per folklore, 100 years earlier, a local farmer murdered three students and then drowned himself. His body was never found, but his ghost is said to return to Hellestad each year, dragging his scythe behind him.
Sara discovers the farmer killed the three boys to avenge the rape and murder of his young daughter at their hands. The family of one of them, named Weine, has been attending the school for generations: Mans Weine (Daniel Larsson) is currently a student and his father, Peder (Kjell Bergqvist), is the school’s leading benefactor and the headmistress’ lover.
Sara’s discoveries cause considerable hoo-ha, with two new students, Felix (Jesper Salen) and Leo (Peter Eggers), also getting involved. Meanwhile, the jumper’s father, who’s been locked in a loony bin for murdering his wife 12 years ago, escapes. As the school’s autumn festival starts, the murders begin again.
Pic returns to the same school environment as Hafstrom’s previous film, and shows the same contempt for the bullying and class system that thrive at such establishments. The name of the school is borrowed from the 1956 Swedish film “Clouds Over Hellestad” (Moln over Hellestad), an Agatha Christie-like crowd-pleaser set in a country manse.
That’s the only knowing wink in the whole movie, which otherwise is simply devoted to scaring its audience. Graphic gore is kept to a minimum, with most of the slayings slightly off-screen. Sole departure from U.S.-style slasher films is that having an active sex life doesn’t necessarily mean one ends up dead.
Hemse makes Sara a much more developed character than usual for the genre, while character actor Bergqvist, a regular in Hafstrom’s films, has fun with the part of a wealthy man who’s afraid of Sara’s investigation. Lenser Peter Mokrosinski keeps his camera constantly moving through the corridors, creating a sense of unease, and Anders Ehlin’s music is mostly efficient.