Ghosts and gangsters in haunted art house movie.
Bound within a house, ghosts and gangsters inhabit each other’s nightmares in a black and white 1930s. Gang leader and estranged father Ulysses must journey through rooms in the house, trying to reach reconciliation with his wife, who cannot go beyond the confines of her bedroom. Borrowing references from mythology, some doors are barred to him, and he must view beyond through keyholes. Weighted with symbology, he drags his own son, bound to a chair, and is guided by a slowly drowning girl. Characters are driven by paranoia and grief. Ulysses only gradually recognises his children, each seemingly dead, and slaps down insurrection from his gang, creating yet more ghosts as they die.
Who is a ghost; whose dream is this? The point is not really to figure it all out, but rather to understand that this is a psychological journey and a dream state. Ghosts moan, drag chains, run naked with dogs, and are doomed to repeat their actions. Outside are raging storms and hails of bullets from the cops.
Jason Patric as Ulysses carries the drama with intense charisma, while Isabella Rossellini, playing his wife Hyacinth, brings a sense of otherliness. Ulysses’ beautifully doleful mistress is the moll of the gang, only ever used and abused, even having to shed her dress to give to another. There is some interesting nudity, and some not very sexy sex.
The publicity material mentions references to German expressionist cinema, but equally evident is inspiration from Cocteau, Eisenstein and Film Noir. For film buffs and students, Keyhole will become essential fair, and will find it rich in more references than those mentioned. If you don’t know your Hitchcock from your Harry Potter, there is still a narrative to unfold and a staggering visual portfolio of cinematic and photographic images. Shot digitally, it is a master class in noir lighting, old-school film techniques using shadows and camera angle choices, and early Hollywood and European film aesthetic.
Frenetic and intense, there is no moment of light relief from the claustrophobia. Canadian director Guy Maddin’s individualistic vision is unrelentingly serious and challenging, and yet a worthwhile ordeal.
Keyhole is released in the UK on 14th September 2012.
Watch the trailer for Keyhole here: