Family heirlooms can be tricky things even if they aren’t particularly valuable. There are few situations more tense than when two grieving siblings realize they’re both expecting to get custody of mom’s favorite vase or grandpa’s pocket watch. If either vase or watch turns out to be valuable besides, all bets are off. A very different sort of heirloom takes center stage in The Surreal Project, however, as one family faces the dark effects of a sinister painting that fascinates some members of the family as much as it repels other.
Mark (Dávid Fecske) runs a vlog on the supernatural called Chasing Fear, and no wonder since he’s more than a little obsessed with things that go bump in the night. Now he’s investigating a mystery that’s a little closer to home than usual: the painting called The Whispering Man. Currently languishing in the attic of his recently deceased grandmother’s home, Mike and his brother Tommy (András Korcsmáros) rescue the painting and bring it to their house. Well, Mark does; Tommy thinks it’s hideous and wants to throw it away.
Supposedly, their father bought it cheap when the hotel he worked for went bankrupt and sold off their furnishings, but I don’t believe it. Any hotel that hung paintings like that around wouldn’t have stayed in business more than a month. It’s nothing complicated, just a picture of a pale greyish face on a black background, but everything about it looks just skewed and strange enough to make the whole effect extremely creepy. Mark’s girlfriend Dora (Ágota Dunai, Spirits in the Dark) refuses to sleep in the same room as the painting, and I can’t blame her.
When unsettling events start to happen, they revolve around Mark as much as the painting, and by the time Mark and Tommy’s sister Anna (Marcsi Nagy) arrives for a visit, everyone is extremely concerned for Mark’s well-being. His best friend Abel (Dávid Kiss) speaks seriously of the need for an exorcism of the painting. But time is running out, and it may already be too late for all of them.
Director József Gallai (who also directed Spirits in the Dark) again features a disturbing abandoned building, this time in the shape of a crumbling sanitarium, scene of a terrible fire in the seventies that claimed several lives, and which also becomes part of the mystery. The found footage format works well — Mark is as concerned with documenting everything that might turn out to be supernatural as he is with the supernatural itself — and though the acting is sometimes a bit stiff there’s a good sense of camaraderie among the characters, especially between Mark and Abel. The initial buildup is perhaps a bit slow, but by the last 20 minutes I could hardly look away from the screen. All in all, this is a creditable follow-up to Gallai’s previous excellent work that will make you wonder what obsession might do to your nearest and dearest.