If you go down in the woods today, prepare for several nasty surprises. A Swedish couple have already been through a lot, having lost their daughter just before she could unwrap a vintage music box they’d picked out for her eighth birthday. Time has moved on, and they’re still together, though bickering constantly, when they decide to go off-road in deep countryside and camp out in a clearing. Where their nemesis will pounce in the form of an oddly-matched trio – a boater-topped variety entertainer, a hulking giant and a kimono-wearing lady – whose scary dog is hungry for fresh meat.
Writer-director Johannes Nyholm is keener on unsettling suggestion than outright gore, although, as these terrifying events rewind and repeat, like some weird fusion of Groundhog Day and Funny Games, it seems as if the ill-fated duo are trapped in some howling feedback loop of grief and paranoia. Which doesn’t answer the question of why the three psychos are the same distinctive figures painted on the side of the aforementioned music box, whose single nursery-rhyme song about a dead cockerel (pronounced ‘koko-dee koko-day’, by the way) haunts the soundtrack like an aggressively invasive earworm.
Whether all this adds up to anything is a seriously moot point, since the film gestures towards psychological portraiture before veering off into dark fable territory, and seems to be open to multiple interpretations rather than a single coherent throughline. Still, while it’s often as exasperating as its repeated theme tune, it does work its way under your skin and into your brain. Adventurous horror fans should seek it out.
Available in the UK on BFI player and other streaming sites on Sep 7.