Director: Peter Strickland.
Screenplay: Peter Strickland.
Starring: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancini, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Susanna Cappellaro, Suzy Kendall, Hilda Péter, Layla Amir, Eugenia Caruso, Chiara D’Anna, Lara Parmiani.
This second feature from director Peter Strickland (following “Katalin Varga” in 2009) is certainly an interesting bag of mixed opinions. Some have claimed it to be a five star experience, while others simply didn’t get it. I suppose it depends a lot on your approach beforehand but there’s no mistaking that it’s one of those film’s where you’re left to make up your own mind.
An experienced British sound-engineer is hired to work on a low-budget Italian horror movie called “Equestrian Vortex”. Throughout his work, he struggles with the language-barrier and constant exposure to horror movie images and finds himself drawn into a vortex all his own, as he begins to lose his grasp on reality.
The thing that strikes you most from this film when it opens is it’s good sense of atmosphere. It possess an almost strange sepia tint, as if the proceedings have been desaturated. There’s a permeating feeling dread and unease that courses through it as, time itself, seems to stroll by. Strickland is certainly in no rush to tell his story and he also abandons any conventional method in doing so; a good chunk of the dialogue is in Italian and there’s a deliberate omission of subtitles. This may put some people off but it serves to create an understanding and affiliation with the loneliness and isolation of the protagonist, Gilderoy (played brilliantly by Toby Jones). Although deliberate, and an interesting method, I also found it somewhat frustrating. What’s also very interesting is that the story takes shape in the sound that’s provided for film’s rather than the images. How many times have you ever seen a horror movie that relies solely on audio rather than visual? Cabbages are stabbed and plunged into water to provide the perfect accompanying sound of someone being stabbed or drowned. It’s an interesting insight and the suggestion of horror is actually captured very well using this approach. When we do, eventually, see the images that have been getting dubbed, it throws the film into a completely new surrealistic direction that shares similarities with the mind-bending talents of David Lynch and his art imitating life theme of “Inland Empire” or “Mulholland Drive“. Of course, thats where the similarity ends as Strickland doesn’t have the ability to construct his story with any real meaning in the way that Lynch excels at. I’m no stranger to surreal cinema, in fact I love it, but this leaned a little too far to self-indulgence for me.
Anyone familiar with the ‘Giallo’ horrors of Italian cinema during the 60’s and 70’s will, no doubt, take a lot more from this film than I did. That being said, there’s no denying it’s grasp on atmosphere and it’s impressive ability to build tension. However, as our protagonist becomes increasingly withdrawn and descends in madness, we descend into obscurity without any real satisfying conclusion. For me, the film just ended. I was aware of it’s nature and prepared for any subtext or symbolism that it might throw my way, but in the end, it didn’t quite come together. I was hoping for a more satisfying conclusion.
It’s certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes. For some, it will bore. For others, it will confuse. However, if your open minded enough, it will draw you in. Basically, it’s an art-house horror that can either be seen as pretentious clap trap or an astute homage. I, strangely, find myself somewhere in between.