When Edinburgh International Film Festival point out in the brochure that a film “Contains distressing scenes of graphic violence” I consider that a fair warning for what I am about to watch. Amok is a 90s drenched crime jigsaw that I feel lazily drawn to compare with Hannibal or maybe David Fincher’s Se7en, except imagine that Kevin Spacey’s killer turned up at the very start and helped with the investigation. That’s not a spoiler by the way, the film sets itself up very quickly as a cat and mouse game between Jacek, a broken, alcoholic cop and Krystian, an overconfident and creepy writer, which the film explains very quickly is highly likely to be a killer.
Krystian has written a book called Amok which seems to detail a murder that occurred four years ago in such clarity that the police believe it to be a confession. Jacek picks up the cold case and starts to spend time with Kristian to interview and understand him; always watching for mistakes and picking up on potential clues that are let slip by the loose lipped and smug writer. Soon though we begin to wonder who is chasing who. Is this all part of a bigger plan by Krystian? If so, and he is guilty, how will he be caught?
Directed by Kasia Adamik it’s refreshing to see such dark subject matter, misogyny and violence against women explored by a female director. As character introductions go the first scene involving Krystian shows him committing such a ferocious act of sexual butchery we as an audience are immediately against him. Although we then learn this was merely fantasy and did not actually occur, our minds are dead set against seeing him succeed in any way. Krystian’s weakness appears to be his overconfidence and obsession with fame. As Amok continues he utilises the investigation against him to to build a celebratory status through book readings and media interviews to cast himself as a misunderstood figure.
Where the film is hugely impressive is in its broken structure that in many ways doesn’t quite satisfy until the very end. Often I found myself thinking “how are they going to prove this guy did it?!” throughout as he constantly outmaneuvered the police. I suppose some may be frustrated by the way the final piece of the jigsaw is presented on a platter completely out of the blue yet on reflection this worked excellently. Amok deals with the unsaid: what secrets and stories people have that they never reveal and how, if spoken, things could be different.
Throughout, the film is laden with symbolism of being watched. Giant eyes look out from billboards, cameras churn out CCTV footage, children watch from behind closed doors, partygoers look on at men standing on the edge of buildings. While Amok explores what characters have done and why, it also explores what others have seen and what they know and how, when this is exposed, can lead to the greater truth.
The real shock came at the end of the film where the credits state that Amok is based on true events. Kasia took to the stage to discuss the film explaining that Krystian Bala is a real person who is now serving a twenty-five year sentence for the murder in Poland. The book he wrote, Amok, was used in trial to convict him, although for once it’s fair to say, that the film is definitely more worthwhile of your time than the book.
For more on the Edinburgh International Film Festival and it’s remaining programme click here.