From the moment director Beata Gårdeler’s Crystal Bear-winning second feature opens with a wedding celebration, there is a sinister ambience to Flocking, both in ambiguity of direction and cinematic colour palette. It lingers, throwing up threatening imagery like dark, foreboding corridors and an abattoir full of fresh meat. The scene is set. The question is how and when the ugliness will materialise?

Loosely based on a true story, we see fourteen-year-old Jennifer (Fatime Azemi) as a drunken and vulnerable bridesmaid at the wedding. The following day she is at school with her friends with seemingly nothing untoward having happened. Then word gets around that Jennifer has cried rape. The alleged culprit is her classmate, popular Alexander (John Risto) who stays apathetic to the accusation.

Alexander’s domineering mother Susanne (Eva Melander superb in passive-aggressive mode) has other plans and wants him and Jennifer to make up and brush the whole lurid allegation under the carpet. However, as soon as the police get involved and the case goes to court, the small Swedish community they all live in begins to unravel, with Susanne unleashing a torrent of online abuse at Jennifer and her family. Can true justice prevail, or is it easier – and safer – to follow the flock?

Gårdeler and screenwriter Emma Broström’s film has an organic intensity that fosters paranoia and alienation. Cleverly, neither of the characters, Jennifer or Alexander acts in a stereotypical way associated with being the victim or the perpetrator, making us constantly reassess our own judgement as speculation grows. It is perhaps ironic that this tectonic swing in position often mirrors real-life rape cases too. The answers do not come until very late in the film – and even then there are no satisfactory resolutions.

The only clear perpetrator is social media and its frighteningly derisive nature, where seemingly ‘normal’ folk can hide behind a bile-ridden persona – the power of which the filmmakers are desperate to expose and drum home. Interestingly, they illustrate this with sporadic, frantic bursts of text superimposed over picturesque landscapes of the vicinity’s idyllic surroundings, like some breeding local malaise.

Both Azemi and Risto impressively mask their characters’ true feelings – the former more so. Azemi has the ambitious task of making Jennifer both vulnerable and culpable that we dare to doubt her accusation. Full credit to the actress who debuts here, and poses an exciting prospect in future projects. The supporting actors provide just the right amount of nuanced performance to keep the secrets and lies rife.

The setting is its very own character, brooding and foreboding like something from a Scandi Twilight film. Without Gösta Reiland’s moody cinematography that cultivates a melancholy, the film would be less effective. It plants the seed of mystery – we know very little about the inner workings of the community, and even the local church seems to give little comfort. Gårdeler’s directing style is lenient in control one minute and systematic the next, keeping the status quo unsettled too.

Flocking is a quietly discomforting affair as we reflect our own opinions on the actions of those in the frame, definitely a third-party assessment, as we know little of the strange environment we have been ‘invited’ in to observe. Even when the primary question is answered there is still little satisfaction to be had, merely a solace for those who remain.