A woman drives to a house in the remote countryside, her red car the only bright spot. A gift awaits her at the door: it’s a white mask, along with a cryptic note. One side reads “Knowledge”; the other side reads “Ignorance.”
Opening the gift sends the woman into some kind of segue state, and when she wakes up, it’s night, and judging from the blackened bananas she just bought, she’s been out for some time. And… she’s also not alone.
Written and directed by Josh Banks, this striking horror-thriller creates intrigue with its conjuring of atmosphere and suggestion, which crests into a gripping, thrilling scene of suspense. But it parlays its stellar craftsmanship and disciplined storytelling into a teasing riddle about the human drive to know what’s behind the surfaces of reality.
The film has a stately, almost old-fashioned visual elegance, with its beautiful cinematography and shot composition. Its often elegant images are marked by splotches of red, whether it’s the red of the car driving up or the decor in the house. This use of color takes on a mysterious, symbolic power, especially in an otherwise muted, cool color palette. And like these red markings, the story itself works on the level of the symbolic, operating at the realm of the unconscious.
We don’t know much about the woman or why she’s up at the house, and there is very little dialogue. With the film’s relative quiet and its remote setting, it has the feel of a dream or some kind of unreality. This dreaminess is never punctured by the specifics of character or circumstance, but the pull of the film’s storytelling is potent nevertheless, with the craftsmanship carving out a taut line of suspense.
At first, the storytelling generates tension through questions: who sent the mask and what does the note mean? But in the film’s second half, the strength of the editing, score and direction take over, working together to deliver pulse-pounding surprise, fear and suspense. The woman must escape another mysterious, scary presence that seems to haunt the house — but, in the end, she can’t escape her fascination and curiosity.
“M” seems to be a self-contained horror-thriller that functions much like the climax of a larger narrative, with an intriguing tease and an immersive build-up. Most horrors explore primal fears through storytelling, and the idea of the outside threat invading our private dominion is an eternal one. “M” seems to fall into this category, but its ending creates a larger existential mystery, fulfilling the symbolic flourishes that hinted at a more esoteric dimension earlier in the film. What is behind the masks we wear and why we feel compelled to explore what we know will doom us: these are the siren calls that define the darker parts of humanity and drive us beyond the contours of normal human knowledge.