Based on a Tragic True Story, This Tense and Enthralling Horror Film

A film that Shudder released in June is unbreakable once you watch it. Despite what the title would imply, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (the duo behind Goodnight Mommy and The Lodge) wrote and directed the Austrian/German horror film The Devil’s Bath, which is not a supernatural nightmare about witchcraft or demonic possession. Rather, its grim realism suggests something far scarier.

The Devil’s Bath, starring musician-turned-actor Anja Plaschg, delves deeply into the gloom of despair. It’s a strong film, yet watching it might be challenging because of the seriousness of the subject matter. You want to exhale in relief when it’s finished and tell yourself, “It was just a movie.” All it was was a film.” Regretfully, it’s not. In fact, Franz and Fiala modeled The Devil’s Bath on hundreds of similar real-life women.

“The Devil’s Bath” Tells the Story of Depression’s Desperation

Before The Devil’s Bath, Anja Plaschg had only acted in two other films during her career. Instead, the Austrian native found fame in music—she even composed the soundtrack for this movie—but her unadulterated skill is what elevates a movie that revolves around her in almost every scene. It starts with an unidentified woman picking up a baby in the woods rather than Agnes, and it takes place in Austria in the eighteenth century.

With no emotion on her face, this mother walks the infant through the trees without making an effort to console the tiny human. She throws the baby over the brink, where it falls to its death, after stopping for a moment at the edge of a waterfall.

She immediately goes to a priest to confess, and the next time we see her, she has already been put to death, her head severed and her corpse left in a cage in the woods. You feel uneasy about The Devil’s Bath after just five minutes.

At that point, Plaschg appears as Agnes, a young, recentlywed lady. Both she and her new husband, Wolf (David Scheid), appear content. In her brief existence, this may be the happiest moment, but it also marks the beginning of the end. Agnes’s goals and hopes for a love life are immediately destroyed when Wolf relocates her away from her family into a new home that he chose without consulting her.

Despite being a pleasant man, he has little sexual interest in Agnes, and her days with him are spent doing physical labor outside before cooking at home and repeating the same the next day. Agnes descends rapidly into a profound melancholy that no one can comprehend or help her escape.

Agnes kills a small boy and confesses to her crime because she is desperate to die but is unable to commit herself since she will go to Hell for the greatest unforgivable act. She has also been given a death sentence, but since she is headed to Heaven, she can pass away peacefully.

“The Devil’s Bath” Is Based on the Dismal Experiences of Women

The Devils Bath

Despite its excellent acting and storytelling, The Devil’s Bath has a disturbing story that is difficult to understand, so you probably won’t want to see it again. This becomes much more apparent when you discover that the story is based on a tragic fact that hundreds of women were all too familiar with, rather than being the product of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s imagination.

During a 2017 podcast episode of This American Life, host Ira Glass discussed the epidemic of suicide by proxy that swept through Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries with historian Kathy Stuart. The number of persons killing children to get them ready for execution—mostly women—was so high that the government started to take notice.

In order to prevent it, new regulations were passed, and in 1702, the agony of execution was increased in Nuremberg to discourage suicide by proxy. The government decided in 1767 to stop executing child killers in an attempt to discourage the idea of suicide by proxy after the new regulations failed, but that plan also failed.

“Cases keep happening until the early decades of the 19th century,” Stuart continued. Thus, it appears that the memo was not received by everyone. Some people were presumably discouraged by it, but they nevertheless go ahead.”

Agnes Was Inspired by a Real Person by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala

Based on a true story, The Devil’s Bath tells the tale of Eva Lizlfellnerin, an Austrian lady. At the age of 25, she had recently tied the knot with a man she had only known for a few days, and they had relocated to her husband’s sixteen-mile-distance farm. In the 1800s, you might as well have been in a different state; whereas, now, we might cover that territory in fifteen minutes.

Eva probably thought she was in a strange place where she didn’t understand anything, and that her mother-in-law was in charge and that the field workers were being mistreated by not giving them enough food. Eva felt much more horrible after this act.

Eva begged her husband and her family for assistance, but no one gave her any attention. This was not the era of therapists and mental health awareness. Eva was instead instructed to labor and pray, as though doing so would heal her. Eva chose to take her own life because she was desperate, yet suicide is the one sin that cannot be forgiven.

She initially believed that she could fool the priests and God himself into believing she had died of natural causes if she could slowly kill herself with poison. After that failed, she considered using the suicide by proxy loophole, which involves killing a kid.

She had heard of this strategy used by others who had committed the same crime. Eva flees from her after trying to kill a boy as her first victim. In an effort to make things simpler, she abducted a baby and threw it into the river on her second attempt.

Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz discussed this with Entertainment Weekly. Fiala stated that they were moved by Eva’s narrative and taken aback to learn of this phenomena, which they were unaware of. Fiala continued, saying:

However, the more we studied it, the more we discovered parallels, if you will, with our times. You wouldn’t want to limit your filmmaking to historical subjects. We believe that it must always speak to our current way of life. Furthermore, the perfectionist woman on whom the movie is based was unable to meet all of society’s expectations of her.

She always felt that she was the one who was to blame and that she was not good enough. I believe that a lot of people, especially women, still [feel] that way in the present era.

Whether you were born in Austria in the eighteenth century or in 2024, with all of the modern amenities and technology, we are all still just individuals with the same aspirations and anxieties as well as the same sorrow when things don’t work out the way we had planned. Depression was a problem hundreds of years ago, and it is so today.

Even while we could all do a lot better when it comes to mental health, at least in the present day we have access to therapists, medications, and a generally stronger support system. We can identify to what brought Eva and hundreds of others there, even though we cannot relate to what they did.


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