To hear that director of surreal Czech new-wave film Daisies once made a sci-fi horror film in the 80s that went largely unnoticed might come as a surprise. Arguably one of her lesser-known works, Wolf’s Hole (Vičí Bouda) is Vĕra Chitloyová’s strange foray into the world of the popular 80s teen horror movies by way of Czech politics of the period.
Starting out with a traditional slasher-style set-up Chitloyová uses isolation to thrust her characters into unforeseen circumstances. A group of randomly selected teenagers have been chosen to complete a course up in a skiing area known as ‘Wolf’s Hole’, but upon arrival at the meeting point discover that it is no longer safe for them to travel up the mountain due to an avalanche. The teens however refuse and plead to be taken to their lodgings anyway. The course leader introduced here as ‘Father’ (Miroslav Machácek), believes that the group are old enough to make their own decisions and so proceeds to take them up the mountain.
Flagged by his two associates Dingo (Tomás Palatý) and Babeta (Stepánka Cervenková), Father fetches the students to a run-down, dingy log cabin that looks like it might have already been a setting for a bunch of serial murders – hardly a place for team-building and camp fires. Now even aside from the dark and dangerous location, absolutely nothing about Wolf’s Hole has felt settling from the get-go; the students have absolutely no idea why they are here or what they are doing, Babeta and Dingo appear completely out of their minds and father possesses an unrelenting stare that pierces through to your innards.
Unfortunately for the students, it can get much worse. After doing a head-count father believes there to be one more person than there should be − 11 instead of the presumed 10, and that within the group lays an imposter. And so begins a rigorous probing to weed out that imposter. Father quickly starts to turn the students against each other, picking favourites and building dictatorial regimes that will hopefully turn the group all Lord of the Flies by forcing them to succumb to mass group thinking. The film acts as a metaphor for the fall of communism, instead applauding socialist thinking, making sacrifices for the benefit of others and sharing the workload. Admittedly, as a non-Czech viewer, this wasn’t a message so immediately apparent, so it often feels difficult to pinpoint the historical weight of Chitloyová’s regularly political work.
Even more distancing is the film’s dive into the realms of science fiction. Hurried plot twists and a grand reveal really do very little to build up on what was already a strong premise that satisfied a trend in teen-led slasher movies and Chitloyová’s own interests in a political message. The big reveal does give the plot a trajectory, but its sci-fi rooting makes the rest of the film feel almost laughable and somewhat anti-climactic.
Where Chitloyová does succeed is in her disconcerting and memorable visuals (anyone else get turned onto her work due to a flurry of Daisies screencaps on Tumblr back in 2012?). Wolf’s Hole feels completely modern and sophisticated beyond its time in its use of horror imagery: a shower curtain with some dirty feet underneath that are never explained, lots of slow burns of people just walking into shot in a terrifying manner, people convulsing in the snow and a fantastic use of a snowman make this film quite unforgettable in these aspects.
Vera Chitloyová’s sci-fi horror feels initially like a step away from her usual sensibilities in the choice of using the popular − and admittedly, very American, slasher set-up. However, it is soon clear that her passion for the unpicking of Czech communist history is still ripe, even through this horror plot. Wolf’s Hole’s weirdness might at times teeter on the edge of comedy, but when it shines it shines blindingly bright.
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of SQ. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her life source is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends far too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here