Monday, July 1, 2024

How ‘The Devil’s Bath’ Evolved From Courtroom Drama into Harrowing Psychological Period Piece

 The Devil’s Bath, the latest from The Lodge and Goodnight Mommy filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, mines its horror from history. The psychological period film, set in 1750 Austria, follows the disturbing unraveling of a woman pushed toward evil, but it initially began life as a courtroom drama.

The Devil’s Bath is now available to stream on Shudder and stars Anja Plaschg as Agnes, a deeply religious woman embarking on a new life as a newlywed. But poor Agnes struggles to adjust to her new life. She finds herself increasingly trapped in a murky and lonely path leading to evil thoughts until the possibility of committing a shocking act of violence seems like the only way out of her inner prison. 

Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala get viewers intimately acquainted with Agnes and her fragile mental state, delivering unrelenting, melancholic experiential horror. But the filmmakers originally had a very different journey in mind for Agnes’ story, loosely inspired by Ewa Lizlfellner and other 18th century women that went to extremes to deal with depressive illness then coloquially known as “the Devil’s Bath.” Instead of following Agenes’ daily life, the filmmaking duo considered setting her story within the courtroom.

Anja Plaschg in The Devil's Bath

Anja Plaschg in Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s THE DEVIL’S BATH.Photo Credit: Courtesy of Shudder. A Shudder Release.

Fiala says, “The reason why we conceived it originally as a courtroom drama is that what interested us in the first place was historical research by Kathy Stuart, who is an American historian, and she had all those trial interrogation protocols of women murdering just to be executed, which is, as you know, called suicide by proxy. We’re fascinated by those protocols because they basically give a voice to people who otherwise would’ve had none. Like in Austria, there are no recordings of, let’s say, farmers at the time because history just wasn’t interested in them. Even worse for women where many of the things that our film talks about had not been researched because there was just no interest. So, the rare opportunity of reading those protocols and having those women basically directly talk to us because they talk about the life, the fears, the sorrows, their crimes, of course. That felt really unique and touched us emotionally greatly. We felt, which may be stupid, but we felt touched by this interrogation; we’ll just have this interrogation. We basically used lots of the material and lots of the dialogue from those protocols. When we then read the first draft of the script, it was boring because it was not like somebody directly talking to you; it was like observing two people talk to each other, and it had lost this direct emotional impact.

“That’s when we asked ourselves, ‘Okay, how can we recreate this impact, and how can we externalize her inner horrors and her inner demons?’ That’s how it evolved into the film that it ended up.

Franz adds, “Also we were interested in showing the depression of Agnes rather than just talking about it because in a courtroom drama, she would’ve told you, ‘Okay, I didn’t want to stay alive, or something. But we were really interested in showing it, making the audience feel how it felt.”

While shifting Agnes’ story from the courtroom into her waking nightmare of a life shifts the film closer to horror, Franz and Fiala don’t really consider it as such. But they’re not concerned about genre labels either.

Fiala reflects, I think as filmmakers, we often ask, ‘Is this a horror film? Is it this? Is it that?’ But those labels are put on the film by producers or distributors at the very end after everything is done, and we never think about it when we start. When we start, we’re just interested in something, and we pursue that, and it might lead us in different directions. For us, it’s not so unusual that our interests shifted, and we slowly, only slowly, found out how to tell the story, at least in our minds, most effectively. That always takes time, but it’s good time because it’s an interesting topic.”

The Devil's Bath - Austria life in 1750

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Shudder. A Shudder Release

The Devil’s Bath is deeply rooted in history and historical accounts, but it’s a fictionalized depiction that gave the filmmakers some creative leeway. Franz and Fiala still approached their film with the utmost care.

“We did a huge amount of research, Fiala explains. “There were actually three historians involved, researching different aspects of life back then. Like, let’s say, medical procedures, approach to religion, daily life, and exorcism. All of that stuff has been researched, but there are not too many sources because history was not too interested in the specifics of ordinary people and women’s history. That automatically created some leeway because there are so few sources that our historians said, ‘It could have been like that, and maybe this is just a singular event, so you are free as long as it feels like we had so much information that I think we were able to judge if it felt plausible or not. If it felt plausible, that was in some cases good enough for us because there is no way of 100% saying it was like that or it was not.”

The post How ‘The Devil’s Bath’ Evolved From Courtroom Drama into Harrowing Psychological Period Piece appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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