Masks (2011)

Decades ago, Matteusz Gdula invented an acting technique that made his students the best in the world. Of course, a bunch of them also died mysteriously and he ended up killing himself, so his method was banned. So why is there now a school devoted to his teachings? And why would they invite Stella (Susen Ermich), a driven if unaccomplished actress?

If you weren’t thinking Suspiria already — remote performing arts school, young girl unsure why she was asked to attend, mysterious past — the fact that Stella arrives just as Britt (Franziska Breite) is running away from something. To hammer it home, no one is warm to our heroine at all — not the students, not headmistress Yolanda (Teresa Nawrot), director Janowska (Magdalena Ritter) or Dr. Braun (Michael Balaun). Only Cecile (Julita Witt) — a young actress who teaches Stella how to open up her emotions while creating new emotions of her own that she doesn’t quite understand — is kind, but then why is her body covered with bruises?

Someone attacked Britt. Cecile disappears. And Lydia (Katja Lawrenz) has shown up dead. Maybe going to far off-performing schools run by dead people isn’t necessarily the best of higher education.

Then again, Stella is becoming a better actor. Instead of only using the pain in her past to become angry, now she can draw on it to become someone else. Perhaps this is the place for her. But at what cost?

Where films like The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears copy the look of the giallo, Masks goes further and understands the story and pacing of the best films in the form. Plus, the idea of a hidden part of the school where you must literally allow a mask to take over your mind so that you can become a role is a great one and the film does so much with it. It also understands something that the new school of giallo has forgotten: the kills must be as spectacular as your camera angles, your lighting and color theory. This is filled with genuinely shocking murders that stay within the giallo world without resorting to being torture porn.

Director Andreas Marschall also made German Angst and Tears of Kali, as well as music videos for Coroner, Moonspell and Sodom.

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