Playground (Placzaba (original title)), co-written by Stanislaw Warwas and directed by Bartosz Kowalski, presents a bold piece of Polish cinema, while not excessive in blood or gore, does generate a disturbing storyline. One needs to note that the movie takes cues of a real-life tragedy from an infamous crime in England that occurred 25-years ago, in February 1993. It shocked the nation and made international news due to the heinous murder of a 2-year-old boy named James Patrick Bulger, by two ten-year-old boys, the child’s mutilated body found on a railway, I mention this as to warn potential viewers of this powerful artwork. This movie uses the images to tell the storyline, with clear subtitles, which shouldn’t dissuade the audiences from watching the disturbing content, presenting it as both narrative and documentary allowing the horror to take place at times from a distance. The cinematography throughout the production is very crisp, framed exceptionally well, which reels the viewer into a doom and gloom, all on a bright sunny day.
The story centers around Szymek (played by Nicolas Przygoda) and best buddy Czarek (played by Przemyslaw Balinski), the movie gives one insight to their homelife and allows us all to see how they handle personal conflicts. Szymek, appears as a dutiful son, assisting his handicapped father, but inexcusable explosion of rage shows both immaturity and boiling of violence within his body and mind. Meanwhile Czarek comes from a very broke and broken home that lacks a father, forced to share a bedroom with his constantly screaming baby brother, sarcastic rants (or perhaps not) to his mother to remove him so he can sleep. Czarek finds himself responsible for gathering/purchasing food, chores, basically running the household, while his older brother Pawel (Bartlomiej Milczarek) lives his own life and makes homosexual remarks back to his little brother. Some refer this to a form of bullying and others deem it as sibling rivalries, either manner the inner hate of the situation needs an outlet and the story follows that slow simmer to an unnatural and strange boil.
A smooth transition of Szymek and Czarek on the final day of school and the brink of teen years, with their introduction of a shy 12-year-old girl, Gabrysia (Michalina Swistun) who secretly loves, her classmate Szymek, but things go awry. However, this encounter borders on sexual assault, but a saving grace is that something distracts the boys and they venture to a mall thereby enter into the second act. The boys wander around chatting, eating sour candies none of it finds itself interesting and tests the audience’s attention, but the visuals turn to a security camera angle showing the boys coaxing a young boy to accompany them. The entire path and style to lead look on the little boy’s face (Patryk Swiderski) he compliantly obeys them, and only for an instance when outside does the child appear to show resistance. For the viewers a moment of possible rescuing appears only quickly dismissed and the agony continues for all. The last 8-minutes of the film, not for weak stomach individuals, while not a horror movie, it layers a thick dosage of bleakness throughout the thriller. Bartosz uses a wide shot from a distance to show the lasting finality of a loss of innocence for everyone involved.
This independent film contains excellent audio even though in polish, and the English subtitles very legible, while staying on the screen the appropriate amount of time. As most of the cast is freshly new to acting, the children Szymek and Czarek, provide the most nonchalant attitude of their actions, far more fearful than any Freddy, Jason or Michael could ever inflict. Kowalski delivers a sickening and thoroughly careful orchestra final shot, which equals what director Richard Donner did with the famous beheading scene in The Omen (1976), where the audience looks away only to look back and still see the horrifying act continuing thereby creating a powerful cinematic scene of art.
Some critics compare this movie to ‘A Serbian Film’ for the witnessing of true evil, however I disagree, Playground shows that monsters exist in all forms and ages, and for people, viewers to think of children in that category quite difficult although filmmakers often use their innocence against adult callous attitudes. Sadly, more than a few, will dismiss the movie, for a multitude of reasons, first reading of subtitles, the lack of blood and that the movie isn’t a horror flick, but rest assured if you witness this movie, you’ll never look at railroad tracks and children near them the same way again.
IMDb Rating: 6.3/10
Baron’s Rating: 7/10