It begins with a prayer, a Bosnian woman kissing a medal and asking for someone, “Ya Hafizu” (“the protector”) to “protect me from evil.”
Their Mitsubishi has given out in the woods. Her German boyfriend, Alex, insists their situation is “a piece of cake.”
Selma? She’s got a bad feeling about this.
“I told you the GPS was wrong…I’m not going into that forest. You think we are in some park in Berlin? MINES!”
Selma (Alma Terzic) left here long ago, and the trauma of her return — for a funeral, no less — has Selma experiencing horrific flashbacks. Meeting two rough-hewn locals (in the woods doesn’t help. The Bosnian War left its scars, made her paranoid.
Running into two rough-hewn locals (Aleksander Seksan, Sanin Milavic) just brings it all back. Are they here to help or is it “a trap?”
“The Maus” is a real world thriller with horrific undertones, a tale in which we’re slow to know which version of the narrative to trust. Is it what Alex (Augustine Wittgentstein) insists, this problem is just an inconvenience, these two nice gentlemen are merely helping us out of a literal minefield?
Or is it Selma’s waking nightmare come to pass, with these guys who Muslim-hating thugs like the ones that tormented her and her family in the late genocidal war?
Filmed in Asturias by Spanish filmmaker Yayo Herrero, “The Maus” lets us believe what we want to believe, even as Selma’s incantatory repetition of “Ya Hafizu” seems to summon up something in her beyond the mere will to survive — a literal demon in this literal minefield of a forest.
The dialogue — English, and Bosnian and German (with subtitles) — doesn’t clarify enough.
Herrero keeps the camera tight on his star, a Bosnian actress, capturing her rising paranoia and monstrous survival instincts. He stages the violence, much of it underground in a dimly lit cave/command post, in grim close-ups as well, personal age-old race hatred expressed with a knife or an AK-47.
But Herrero doesn’t play fair with showing which version of reality to grasp, which secrets to give up and which treat as delusions. Is this a survival story, or deranged revenge for what happened during The War?
How far will this story drift on past its climax?
We don’t need it all spelled out for us, but for such a seemingly straight-forward tale, the filmmaker, dabbling with horror, still has a lot of explaining to do.
The story he chose to tell is grimly dissatisfying, nothing more.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence
Cast: Alma Terzic, August Wittgenstein, Aleksander Seksan, Sanin Milavic, Diana Fernández Pérez
Credits: Written and directed by Yayo Herrero. A FilmFactory/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:35