Westermarck Effect (2022): Controversial Subject Matter, Decent Film
It’s no surprise that relationships are difficult to navigate. Finding people who you not only share the same values and interests in life is far from an easy task in a world of seven billion people. But what happens when you find someone who you think is your soul mate and she ends up being your biological mother? Saara Lamberg’s 2022 film Westermarck Effect answers that question!
Sam (played by Jayden Denke) is a seemingly directionless young man who plays in a band where he seduces a plethora of young women, much to the chagrin of both his girlfriend and band mates. One night, he comes across an older woman named Sally (played by Saara Lamberg) and immediately becomes infatuated with her. After discovering a photo of himself as a baby in her possession, he tries to find out more about her, only to be faced with a disturbing and dark truth.
Before we delve into this review, let’s first discuss just what the Westermarck Effect is. Named after anthropologist Edvard Westermarck, the effect is essentially reverse sexual attraction that acts as a deterrent for inbreeding. Throughout the first thirty minutes of the film, Sam exhibits sexual attraction towards Sally. However, when it is revealed that she is his biological mother, he somehow is even more attracted to her. He uses the Westermarck Effect to justify their relationship, saying that since they never grew up together, their sexual attraction is normal. But to some viewers, it doesn’t make the incestuous nature any less upsetting.
One aspect I really appreciate about the film is the desaturated color tone, which paints the film in a very gritty light. While this is often criticized in the realm of film, it works in Westermarck Effect’s favor. Additionally, both leads give strong performances, especially writer, director and producer Saara Lamberg who perfectly conveys the internal struggle she is undergoing and her doubts about her relationship with Sam. Speaking of which, I really enjoyed how this internal struggle was portrayed, taking the form of dream-like sequences that seem very abstract yet fully convey its message.
The film’s main conflict is whether our leads, Sally and Sam, should have a relationship. So incest is a particularly touchy subject as the film itself acknowledges with comments that Sally gets from the internet. In general, the film shows very well the societal pushback this results in while also showing the leads as very human. While empathizing with the characters is virtually impossible due to the topic, the film does the best job it could have done.
While I am fine with the premise and Sally as a character, Sam is not someone I care for. Sam as a character is rather troubling and almost completely unlikable. In his introduction, he is shown to be very unfaithful to his at the time girlfriend Mint, cheating on her with a girl he met at a club his band was performing at. After meeting Sally, he makes several unwanted advances towards her. He also fails to think that maybe he should make sure this woman who has a baby picture of him and says she knew his mom is not related to him in any way before hitting on her. In general, it seems like he never listens to anyone about basically anything. The film does constantly show that this behavior constantly bites him back, and he seems to somewhat improve by the end but he is just honestly not likable enough for that to help his character’s perception.
Westermarck Effect is clearly not a film for everyone. Containing one of the most taboo subject matters, the film asks the hard question of whether incest is morally correct or not if two people who are related by blood never grew up together. Despite its taboo subject matter, Saara Lamberg’s Westermarck Effect contains solid acting from both its leads. Combined with brilliant cinematography and a gritty color tone, Westermarck Effect is rather difficult film to watch, yet not a bad film.
Co-Written By: Owen Gonzalez