Review: Deer Boy (2017)

Katarzyna Gondek’s masterful fantastic drama with the elements of toned-down body horror Deer Boy opens with a drone shot of a herd of titular animals set against an ominous music score in which the talented filmmaker demonstrates her ability to create an atmosphere and simultaneously hold the firm grip over the viewers’ attention. Gondek establishes her style that employs jump cuts and Maciej Twerdowski’s camerawork in murky, washed-up colours even before the story gets under way in the following scene at the hospital with a woman (played by Katarzyna Sniezka Sobiszewska) gives birth to an unusual boy.

The boy is born with a hint of antlers, but, as we know from the title and learn it further down the road, his presence is not demonic at all, and not even that of an animal. Deer Boy is a dear and playful boy, with only antlers to separate him from his peers. However, the opposite reactions from his parents to his existence and dual identity is something that will define him. While the mother is a force of mercifulness, the always grim-faced father (Janusz Chabior) is a force of nature trying to impose strictly human, that is predatory, identity on the boy. The father cuts his horns, teaches him to shoot and takes him on the hunting trips with his buddies once the boy starts coming of age. However, the other part of the boy’s identity starts rebelling and the young man has to make a choice – is he a deer or is he a boy.

The elements and ideas Gondek deals with are known and seen in films before. The discussion about the identity as a choice category or as a predestined necessity is universal, dating from the times of argument between rationalists and empirists. On the other hand, her filmmaking choices and ideas are quite inventive and fresh (like writing no dialogue, depending only on noises as the means of communication), though not always clear (like using the Croatian actors to over-dub the same noises), but the end result is a terrific piece of cinema.