Director: Johannes Grenzfurthner
Notable Cast: Johannes Grenzfurthner, Ethan Haslam
Putting an audience into the mindset of a character, mainly the protagonist, is script writing and filmmaking 101. The fastest way to instill empathy is to see through the eyes of that character. Any film student or casual viewer knows this to be true. Even when the protagonist is, essentially, the villain of the story. This choice is not one that will often make for an easy watch, but one that can explore some fascinating depths of the character.
Masking Threshold, from director Johannes Grenzfurthner, fully dives into this approach. It’s a character study which attempts to fully immerse its audience into the world and thoughts of its protagonist, unfolding like a type of visual diary, as they begin their descent into a madness driven by obsession. It’s experimental to the max, making it one of the more unique watches of Panic Fest 2022, and fascinating to a point that it’s hard to deny that it doesn’t encapsulate its concept in full - even if it demands a lot of patience from its audience.
It’s well known at this point that ‘true crime’ storytelling is still a force to be reckoned with in genre media. People are obsessed with understanding the story and mind of the killer and the sheer amount of true crime podcasts, shows, and narrative features dictates that this niche is not going anywhere anytime soon. Masking Threshold blends the style of all of those into one. It’s like a conspiracy obsessed art film student’s YouTube channel that slowly cascades into a modernized Edgar Allen Poe tale of madness.
The big, bold angle on this one, to separate it from other more traditional narrative films, is that it’s essentially told from the first person. The protagonist has taken a few days off from work and set up an experimentation lab in his house. As it would seem, they have been hearing sounds and are starting to believe that it’s tied to organic or inorganic items in the room with them. Unfortunately, as the experiments continue, the protagonist becomes more and more obsessed with the source of the sounds and it pushes them further and further down the tunnel of insanity.
Now, a first-person perspective isn’t always the most effective way to write. It limits the visuals and requires a lot of exposition to be delivered through voice over narration or very defined sequences that expand the narrative. Yet, Masking Threshold is using these essential flaws as stylistic choices. It’s an experimental film with its visuals and audio, for sure, often negating more conventional cinematic choices for the sake of placing its audience in with its protagonist as his world unravels.
The overall stream of consciousness style of its narrative can be tedious at times, particularly for more casual horror fans. This is not a film meant to entertain as much as it is to disturb and unnerve. I would be lying if I didn’t spend most of the film bouncing between curiosity, boredom, and fascination with just how much Masking Threshold admirably stuck to its guns. All in all, it’s hard for me to recommend this to those outside of the more artistic and experimental fanbase, but for those who are intrigued by it, then definitely seek this one out once it makes it beyond the festival circuit.