Fantastic Fest 2023: Letters to the Postman Explores the Folly of Youthful Naivety

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I went into Letters to the Postman not entirely sure what to expect. It was part of Fantastic Fest’s “Burnt Ends” lineup, a group of odd cinematic delicacies that cater to film fans whose tastes lie outside the typical mainstream box, so I knew I was in for something unusual. What’s more, the festival’s official plot synopsis teased that the movie would be a bit ghostly, but beyond those two little tidbits, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. However, as a fan of unusual ghost stories, that uncertainty actually appealed to me. I couldn’t wait to find out what fantastical frights this film had in store for me, so when I finally sat down to watch it, I pressed play on my screener with the excitement of a little kid on Christmas morning.

Letters to the Postman was written and directed by Felix Dembinski, and it stars Jack Edwards, Dominic Keeble, Andrea Ratti, Tiffany Hannam-Daniels, and Anna Fraser along with Marek Dembinski as the narrator. It’s an adaptation of a short story by Robert Aickman, and it follows a young man named Robin who takes a job as a provisional mailman for a small town in the English countryside. As he’s learning the ropes, he comes across a secluded house that never receives any mail, and he hears that a beautiful woman named Rosetta Fearon supposedly lives there.

As luck would have it, Robin soon becomes tasked with delivering a letter to this reclusive resident, but when he opens her mailbox, he finds that Rosetta has actually left something for him. He takes it out and reads it, and he learns that the woman wants to become pen pals with him. Since Rosetta is supposed to be quite beautiful, the young man happily agrees, and he starts to anxiously look forward to her letters every day. At first, this odd friendship seems harmless enough, but it quickly turns into an obsession that might not be in the young Robin’s best interests.

When Letters to the Postman begins, the film might seem fairly pedestrian, but after just a few minutes, you’ll realize that you’re absolutely captivated. Director Felix Dembinski crafts an enthrallingly dreamlike atmosphere that draws you in and makes it impossible to look away, and as the movie goes on, that spellbinding quality never loses its force.

For example, most of the film is underlaid by a low, almost Eraserhead-esque drone, but unlike that David Lynch classic, the sound in this one doesn’t come from nonstop industrial machinery. Rather, it’s mostly an incessant wind along with some gently flowing water, but it has the same effect. It almost lulls you into a hypnotic state, so Letters to the Postman feels more like a dream than a movie.

What’s more, the performances in this film are very understated, and they also contribute to that trance-like atmosphere. In fact, they’re so understated that in any other movie, they’d probably come across as wooden and unrealistic. But not here. They fit the vibe of this film perfectly, so they actually help to draw you in even more.

A letter addressed to the postman

Last but not least, we have to talk about Rosetta’s letters. If you step back and think about it, the whole idea of a reclusive, beautiful woman writing letters to her mailman even though she doesn’t normally receive any mail is pretty ludicrous. It’s the kind of the thing you’d expect in a dream but not in real life, so the absurd nature of it all just enhances the movie’s surreal tone.

All that being said, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. Letters to the Postman is more than just a Lynchian exercise in irrational surrealism. Unlike Eraserhead and many similarly dream-like films, this one actually tells a coherent story, and as you can probably guess, it’s all about the mystery behind Rosetta Fearon and her enigmatic letters. Who is she, and what exactly does she want from this young mailman? We have no idea, and as the film goes on, those questions just become more and more beguiling.

In fact, soon after Robin began receiving these letters, I found myself becoming almost as obsessed with them as he was. I couldn’t wait to see what this peculiar woman would say next, and every time she revealed more about herself and her situation, my mind would race with theories and ideas about what I thought was really going on.

Then, when Letters to the Postman finally pulls back the curtain and lets us in on its secrets, the payoff does not disappoint. I obviously can’t go into any specifics without spoiling the movie, but I can say that the ending is a beautiful and somewhat heart-wrenching exploration of youthful naivety.

Robin’s relationship with Rosetta doesn’t turn out to be quite what he was expecting, and he gets the kind of rude awakening almost all young people suffer at one point or another. It’s a fantastic metaphor for a nearly universal human experience, and it portrays that experience in a way that’s unflinchingly honest but also pleasantly palatable.

On the negative side, I have to be honest, I don’t really have any significant criticisms of Letters to the Postman. At most, I’d say there’s some imagery here that I didn’t entirely understand, so I’m eager to get a chance to watch the movie again and try to decipher the hidden meanings of all those weird shots.

However, that’s not really a criticism, so at the end of the day, I’m happy to report that I had a great time with Letters to the Postman. Sure, as I said before, it’s very different from your typical mainstream genre fare, so if you’re looking for Paranormal Activity-esque chills and thrills, this isn’t the film for you. But if you enjoy slow-burn drama-horror that prioritizes mystery and atmosphere over explicit scares, I highly recommend that you give this movie a watch when it gets a general release.

Letters to the Postman has its US premiere at Fantastic Fest on September 25.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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