Netflix film review: Beyond the Hills
James R | On 17, Nov 2013
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Cast: Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta
Watch online: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / TalkTalk TV
Two young girls in a monastery ask themselves should they stay or should they go in Cristian Mungiu’s dark nun-bashing drama. At times you may tempted to ask yourself the same thing. But stick it out and Beyond the Hills has a pay-off that almost justifies its 150 slow-paced minutes.
Broke and homeless, Alita (Flutur) decides to visit her old orphanage friend – a very intimate one at that – Voichita (Stratan). She’s now living in a tiny religious community up in the Romanian hills, a far cry from Germany, where Alina wants them to run away to.
“I’m alone,” says Alina. “You’re never alone if you truly believe,” recites Voichita in return. It’s an interesting debate – should love of God or humans come first? – but Beyond the Hills severely loses steam after you hear that same conversation for the tenth scene in a row.
But what starts as a mildly interesting tale of sexual frustration and dilemmas of faith suddenly transforms into a shocking horror film come the final act. Mental illness and deluded priests all come into play, building up to perhaps the most damning indictment of organised religion in the modern world since Luis Bunuel’s Nazarin.
Mungiu doesn’t stop there, though: Valeriu Andriuta’s idiot believer gets the brunt of it, but fingers are also pointed at society. Hospitals, the police and foster families are just as much to blame for Alina’s fate. But even though the ending packs an almighty wallop, there’s still no getting over that first hour.
Is it worth chaining yourself to a plank of wood so you don’t walk out of the room? Yes – but only just. The tiny village is well shot and grimly authentic, covering everything in mud and fear, but if it wasn’t for Stratan and Flutur’s superb performances, Beyond the Hills would soon start to feel as irrelevant as its priest’s sermons.