(Written by Sean Boelman, disappointment media)
Back in 2019, the film Dirty God picked up a great deal of acclaim on the festival circuit after beginning its run at Sundance and became one of the most underseen gems of that year. Its writer-director and star duo, Sacha Polak and Vicky Knight, have reunited for Silver Haze — premiering at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival — and it’s arguably even better than their last joint effort.
The movie follows a woman who, having received scars as the result of a fire from fifteen years ago when she was a child, sets out on a quest for revenge having never found the answers she seeks. Although the premise sounds like it could be something that takes advantage of trauma, Polak’s script is thankfully quite sensitive to this.
Silver Haze is not the type of revenge film that audiences are most accustomed to. It never lingers on violence, nor does it ever feel like it tries to con its way into our pity. Instead, we feel like we are injected into the lives of these people as they learn to cope with a pain that they still haven’t processed.
Beneath this is a romance between the protagonist and another young woman questioning her own identity. The movie’s attempts to draw a parallel between the crises of identity the protagonist and her love interest face trying to fit in are poignant, even if they do become a bit overly melodramatic in the third act.
Polak excels at creating characters that are frustrating yet remain wholly empathetic. The decisions made by both of the lead characters are downright angering at points, and yet, the audience still understands these emotions. Even more impressive is that this conflict is hardly universal, but Polak has such a keen sense of the human condition that she makes it feel resonant.
The shining highlight of Silver Haze is Vicky Knight’s central performance. Between this and Dirty God, it is starting to be a little troubling that Knight might get typecast for her physical scars—but she is still one hell of a performer, and this role gives her much more substance to work with beyond her image.
Polak’s visual style is very gritty and realistic to the point of almost feeling like a documentary. This keeps the film grounded, even when the plot begins to feel mildly contrived in the final thirty minutes. Earning the name, Silver Haze’s color palette is extremely muted and soft, creating a feeling of discomfort that makes the viewer feel almost voyeuristic.
Silver Haze is a tremendously powerful movie thanks to tender direction from Sacha Polak and an extraordinary performance by Vicky Knight. Apart from a few beats in the third act that are a bit too obvious for their own good, Polak tells a story that feels poignant, extremely personal, and refreshingly human.
Silver Haze premiered at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival.