Review by Sean Boelman
Filmmaker Abel Ferrara and character actor Willem Dafoe have had very fruitful collaborations in the past, having worked together six times at this point, and Siberia is about the weirdest they come. With a bountiful amount of haunting imagery but too weak of a narrative to justify it, this is on the weaker end of Ferrara’s filmography.
The film follows a man who spends his days fighting hallucinations tied to his past demons and tending a bar whose patrons speak a different language than him. For better or worse, this movie shows all of Ferrara’s most abstract tendencies, but it’s not quite experimental enough to fully work as such.
There is definitely some very aggressive pacing in this film. Certain portions completely drag, and others are loud and frantic, which will create some serious whiplash. Even though it only clocks in at around an hour and a half, the frequent shifts in how the story moves will be off-putting for anyone who isn’t a hardcore Ferrara devotee.
However, that isn’t the only thing that is wildly inconsistent about this movie. At some points, it feels extremely vague, and at others, it is far too on-the-nose. Ferrara isn’t exactly known for the subtlety in his films, but with this movie, he shoots for something much more ambiguous but doesn’t exactly pull it off.
The character development in the film is also very lackluster. The backstory that we are given to the protagonist’s past is very generic. There is such little development to the characters that it completely fails to create an emotional connection, instead feeling like a smattering of thematically connected images.
Willem Dafoe’s performance in the leading role is absolutely the highlight of the movie. Dafoe is such a central component of every single moment that the effectiveness of the whole film rests entirely on his performance. He single-handedly makes a movie that otherwise feels cold and distant into something that is at least compelling to watch.
The film is also mostly successful on a visual level. Apart from a few scenes that aim much bigger than the budget that Ferrara had, the movie is effectively nightmarish. It is when Ferrara is focusing on the hauntingly simplistic motifs that the film is at its best, allowing it to capture the atmosphere for which it is aiming.
Siberia has some very effective elements, but it is about as divisive as they will come. A majority of viewers will reject it for how abstract it is, and others may not like how much it is lacking in subtlety, although there is a sweet spot of the audience that will dig Ferrara’s vibes.
Siberia hits theaters and VOD on June 18.