Director: Guy Maddin
Starring: Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini, Louis Negin, Brooke Palsson, Udo Kier
Canadian auteur Guy Maddin — he of the black-and-white art film — attempts to give genre a bit of a nominal spin in much the same way that Lars von Trier did last year with “Melancholia.” His stab at the cops-and-robbers template arrives in the form of “Keyhole,” a kind of quarter-hearted siege/stand-off film cross-pollinated with psychological melodrama, and a heavy side of metaphorical import. The result, while characteristically full of some beautiful and evocative images, seems doggedly intent on achieving art status through obfuscation.
Jason Patric stars as Ulysses, an on-the-lam criminal holed up with his gang inside a haunted house. The house is actually his, though, and it’s populated with ghosts of his family, including deceased wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini) and his ex-father-in-law (Louis Negin), the latter of whom is naked and chained to a bed. As forces from outside press in against him, Ulysses suppresses the mutinous instincts of at least one henchman and tries to coax out of her locked room Hyacinth, from whom he is either trying to extract revenge or forgiveness depending upon whom you believe. Oh, and there’s also a homemade electric chair, frequently naked hostages, and Udo Kier as a pressed-into-service doctor whose son has been killed by swarming wasps that same night.
Throughout his career, Maddin has proven obsessed with, and certainly quite adept at, mining and mimicking classic and silent cinema for woozy imagery that evinces a certain dream-hold. The best of these efforts (which include “The Saddest Music in the World,” wherein Rossellini plays a beer heiress possessing two glass legs filled with stout) are weird and funny and melancholic, arresting in ways that circumvent direct emotional response. “Keyhole,” by contrast, just seems like a dyspeptic blend of arthouse and funhouse. Co-written by Maddin and George Tolles, the movie is roughly (very roughly) about one man’s descent into madness, or the fight to escape same (think “Dream House,” or “Shutter Island”), but it’s marked by stunts and digressions which prove distracting. One could easily see David Lynch mining this same sort of territory, but with more of a connection to queasy psychological underpinnings. Plot and story take a back seat to the black-and-white imagery, of course — inclusive of billowing curtains, eerie double exposures and overlays, fetishistic framing and other sexual kink — that make “Keyhole” seem like a Calvin Klein perfume commercial circa 1997.
The actors, particularly Patric, are brooding and invested, but “Keyhole”‘s dialogue — which starts off with droll asides like, “If it’s a ghost leave him alone because they don’t like to be touched,” and eventually pivots into hammy New Age declarations like, “No one has ever been more naked,” and, “I will have what is left of you” — does them no great favors. The movie never stops being interesting to look at, but it reaches the tipping point in self-serious art-preciousness early on, and coasts downhill in rudder-less fashion for much of its last hour.
Written by: Brent Simon