Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon here back to review another movie for ya. This time I watched The Mad Women’s Ball on Amazon Prime. Please be warned there may be some spoilers below so if you hate that sort of thing, watch the movie before reading.
This is technically labeled as horror by Amazon but that’s really stretching it for this film. The movie is about Eugenie Clery who is able to communicate with spirits. We never actually see any of the spirits and there’s not so much as a single jump scare here but the plot is central to the fact that Eugenie does, in fact, communicate with spirits.
The film is a period piece set in France just after the death of Victor Hugo. The first scene is Eugenie attending his funeral and then going back home to tell her family about it. I think this quickly establishes her independence and helps the audience to know she’s an intelligent woman who may be ahead of her own times. She lives with her father, brother, mother and grandmother. The brother seems to support Eugenie’s independent spirit while the father is sternly against anything going outside of traditional roles for women.
The audience knows for certain Eugenie is communicating with spirits because she knows things no one else can and there is a very convincing performance here by Lou de Laâge as Eugenie. As things go on, Eugenie lets her secret out once too many times and this is where the film really gets going. Her father and brother take her to a mental asylum (which is what these places were called back then) and because they are men, and they can, they leave her there indefinitely.
If you’re a long time reader of my blog you have probably read me railing against the trope of the mental asylum in horror more than once. It can be old and tired and oftentimes downright offensive to people who have mental illness. On the flip side of that, there are films that get this right. They make the characters in these institutions feel like people not just a convenient reason to have someone run around with a knife to scare the audience. The Mad Women’s Ball is one of these rare exceptions that truly gets this right. The character are real, fleshed out characters, with a multitude of motivations, reasons for being where they are and hopes and dreams. All the while, many of them are there for unfair and unjust reasons, and since this is an asylum for women, it’s pretty clear the men are the ones who get to decide if they stay or go.
Eugenie is understandably upset and afraid when she is dropped here so of course she’s labeled hysterical almost immediately. Things keep turning worse for her as she either states she talks with spirits or is scared by them. She quite reasonably argues to people who are going to church that it’s no more crazy to believe in spirits than to believe the incidents of spirits in the bible. Those people weren’t locked up but Eugenie is.
All in all I think this film is a blistering criticism of the patriarchal routes of modern mental health care and more than any other film I can think of shows how out of touch the doctors of the time were with their patients. The real horror here is not at all that Eugenie can speak with spirits, it’s how these women are treated, put on display, looked down upon, and overall abused. At the same time it doesn’t simply put all men in the same bucket of horrible. Eugenie’s brother seems to be a kind and caring man who actually thought he would be helping his sister by placing her in the asylum.
If you want a film with excellent performances, set in an asylum, where the characters are multidimensional and the plot does not feel like it is simply trampling over the issues of the time, this is an excellent film to check out. My only real criticism here is it is a bit slow at points and there is a lot of silence in the beginning which makes it feel like a bit of a slog at the start. However, once Eugenie ends up in the asylum there is plenty of movement of the plot and things get interesting after that.
Have you watched this one? If so, let me know what you thought of it in the comments.