Lucile Hadžihalilović’s third feature, Earwig, is both stunningly surreal and incredibly confounding.
Earwig is the screen adaptation of the Brian Catling novella of the same name and follows the curious tale of Mia (Romane Hemelaers), a young girl in mid-20th century Europe with teeth made of ice. Yes, you read that right – teeth made of ice. Devoted fans had been highly anticipating Hadžihalilović’s follow-up to her films Innocence and Evolution and waited with bated breath for a glimpse of the aforementioned teeth. That said, Earwig is centered more on Albert (Paul Hilton) who is the caretaker for the young girl and is tasked with regularly changing the ice dentures until he is asked to prepare Mia to enter the world.
I saw Earwig during its run at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. A TIFF representative mentioned as the screening was about to start that they had spoken with producer Andrew Starke and he insisted that Earwig needed to be seen and experienced in a live theatre setting. And now having seen it, I’m in full agreement.
Despite being fairly light on the dialogue, Earwig manages to keep you engaged and drawn in. The dark and disturbing design more than makes up for any perceived lack of narrative. You’ll find yourself with a lot of questions throughout much of the film. Wanting to know how Albert came to be in charge of Mia, why must she wear the ice teeth, who is the mastermind behind this arrangement, etc. And while you won’t get answers to everything, Earwig gives you little clues throughout and does eventually reward you with a fleshing out of Albert’s backstory.
While there is certainly blood and gore in Earwig, it’s used sparingly and deliberately. The scariest aspect of this surrealist horror film is the devastating sense of anguish. There’s a palpable air of dread that follows Albert throughout all of his interactions and everything that he does. Earwig’s use of silence and sound can be overwhelming in the best ways, even bordering on hypnotic. The sudden bursts of brutal violence only add to the film’s unnerving feel.
Earwig is a surrealist body-horror treat that sits neatly alongside such classics as David Cronenberg’s Spider, David Lynch’s Eraserhead, and Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria. That’s a lofty, but warranted comparison. After a successful run through the film festival circuit, it seems inevitable that Earwig will become more widely available and eventually hit the major streaming services. When it does, I highly recommend seeking it out. It’s probably not the film to watch while under the influence of edibles, but then again, maybe that could be fun.