Writer/director Jeremiah Kipp adapts the Edgar Allen Poe story, Berenice, to modern times, and it’s a potent, bold interpretation. Evidently, the original story was quite shocking even in Poe’s time, but under Kipp’s keen eye, it doesn’t hold back, and the results are macabre and quite masterful to watch.
The story is told from the point-of-view of Edward (Thomas Mendolia), a young man from a well-to-do home who has developed a lot of focus on particular tasks and things. One day, his parents tell him that his cousin, Berenice (Cheryl Koski), is coming to stay with them. She is quite ill, and for the sake of bringing family together, her and Edward are to connect. When they first see each other, though, there is a hint that they have connected in the past, although what that entails is not quite certain, although in the original Poe story, they get married. Berenice’s health continues to decline, while Edward’s connection with her, and in particular, her teeth, becomes quite focused.
The performances by Mendolia and Koski go to different spectrums of “acting” by necessity– one quite muted, one quite physical bordering on over-the-top –but work well to find a middle ground with the narrative that is startling to watch. This is an unsettling story, exceptionally told, with a strong sense of dread that hangs over every moment, whether it comes from the score, or the way a scene is lit, or a performance or mannerism, or the story specifically. It’s an unforgettable work from a filmmaker who knows strong material when he sees it.