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Simon Read [Film Festival 07.01.09] movie review horror thriller crime

Year: 2009
Directors: Dario Argento
Writers: Jim Agnew & Sean Keller
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 8 out of 10

Giallo means ‘yellow’, in Italian, and often refers to the yellow colored covers of cheap, paperback thrillers from the 30’s and 40’s, as well as pulp movies from Italian directors made during the 70’s and 80’s. Argento’s latest offering, since the disappointing Mother of Tears, is something of a pastiche of pulp detective stories, as well as a satirical take on modern ‘horror-porn’ films. Adrien Brody (The Jacket, King Kong, etc) stars as the classic, Chandler-esque, hard-nosed detective, skulking in his underground office; he’s charged with solving the very worst and most grisly cases in the city. After the disappearance of a young female model, he teams up with her anxious sister, and together they set about solving the case. While I’m not the most ardent Argento fan, and only really have a passing interest in his body of work, I am pleased to say that as the last film I saw at the EIFF ’09, this is an absolute winner!

While some may interpret the film as a straight-up horror/thriller, I found doses of humor in the insanely melodramatic narrative, bizarre flashbacks and, most of all, the dynamic between Brody’s Inspector Enzo Avolfi, and his feisty assistant, Linda (played with vim by veteran actress Emmanuelle Seigner, who starred in Roman Polanski’s ‘Frantic’, back in 1988).

The plot is straight out of a Giallo, with an insane, jaundiced taxi driver, kidnapping young girls and torturing them to death in his secret hideaway. Linda is on the phone to her sister, Celine, who is suddenly drugged and snatched by the killer, dubbed ‘Yellow’, for his unusual skin condition. While I can wax lyrical about the plot, I’ll stick to what makes the film so much fun. Argento, a master of his favorite genre, has turned things on their heads, upping the action and characterization to the point where it, narrowly, approaches high-camp. Brody’s back story, as to how he became the chief weirdy-case solver, is hilarious and pans out slowly during the film, until Linda demands to know what his deal is, and we get a very full-on and frank flashback, in which all is revealed. He also chain-smokes cigarettes throughout the entire 90 minute running time, often lighting-up at the end of a scene, then doing the very same thing at the start of the next, a great nod to noir classics.

The dialogue is filled with fun too; on discovering a freshly dispatched corpse in the fountain of a local nunnery, Brody asks the sergeant, “Who discovered the body?” The guy answers, “The Mother Superior…” and Brody quips, “Jesus Christ!” As Linda anxiously waits in the car to hear whether or not said body is indeed her sister, Inspector Enzo checks it out, and turns to her with a smile, “Hey, it’s not her!” I can’t do it justice with words, but trust me, it’s hilarious. Seigner has her share of comic moments too; at the hospital, they’re trying to convince a nurse to let them see confidential medical records, which she refuses them. Linda shines with self-righteous glee as she stares the nurse in the face, thumps the desk and bellows, “Jesus Christ, C’mon woman!” My favorite scene in the whole flick (for it is every inch a ‘flick’) has Brody striding manfully down a corridor after a confrontation with Seiger, who remains in the background, screaming at him. The shot lasts just a little too long, becoming increasingly wacky, as Linda’s voice can still be heard even although she’s almost out of shot, shouting at Enzo, “You are so selfish! You are so damn selfish! You’re even worse than the killer! You’re so… SELFISH!” There’s a terrific comic tone to almost every scene, including those set in the seedy den of the appropriately psychotic killer, played with relishing malevolence by Byron Deidra.

There are great parallels between Enzo and Yellow; both men share a shady past and an unusual childhood. While Enzo is pretty much a re-packaged Marlowe, crossed with Manhunter’s Will Graham, and sprinkled with a little Bad Lieutenant, Yellow is a classic psycho-killer, huffing glue and eagerly deforming his victims, scenes which recall classic 70’s and 80’s horror films, with old-school gore effects that would have Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero drooling. As he reaches for an enormous canister which reads: “BLEACH”, one of his victims stares at it and screams, “What is that?!” I simply just can’t get enough of this stuff. Argento has managed to make the simplest lines, such as police officer entering a room, saying, “Here are the documents you asked about before”, turning around and leaving, into laugh-out-loud self-parodies, that had the audience giggling like kids. It’s telling that, in a film which contains female torture and mutilation, Brody passes by a huge poster for the film, ‘Juno’, I can’t tell whether what was a deliberate jab at Diablo Cody’s screenwriting Oscar, or not, but if it is, kudos!

And that’s just it, I can’t be absolutely sure whether the whole film is supposed to be a self-aware, comedic homage to ‘Giallo’, and to the entire Argento / Fulci / Bava / Lenzi film cannon, or if it’s just an unintentionally over-the-top gaff (a few people walked-out, which did get me to wondering). Two films which boast Argento’s writing skills that I do adore are Demons 1 & 2, both peppered with surreal, dark comedy, which is very evident here. I’m assuming the man knew exactly what he was doing and, along with Brody, who shares both producer and writer credits, has created one of the funniest comic appropriations (spoof is too strong a word) of the whole Giallo genus, with inventive gore to boot.

Either way, I personally enjoyed the film enormously; it’s something wonderful to see a horror director subverting his own genre and confounding expectations with such skill and wit. Brody was daring to take on the project, and is now entirely forgiven for associating with Wes Anderson, although I seem to have scrawled on my notepad the following sentence; “Is Brody slowly turning into a haunted Salvador Dalí painting, of an increasingly disappointed sundial?” Time will tell ladies and gentlemen.

Roll on the EIFF 2010, and thanks to all for reading and posting comments!

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agentorange (12 years ago) Reply

Great review. I've been disappointed with Argento's last few films- even The Card Player which was probably the best of late - so I'm glad to hear this is a winner. I'm also glad to see Brody back in something I'd actually want to watch. This and "Splice" are high on my watch list.

But that Suspiria remake should not happen. Just wanted to throw that in there ;)


Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

"The plot is straight out of a Giallo, with an insane, jaundiced taxi driver, kidnapping young girls and torturing them to death in his secret hideaway" How is that straight out of a Giallo - the most common trope in that sub-genre is that the plots are mysteries where, however bizarre, there is a convoluted narrative where the identity of the killer or killers is a mystery? Which Giallo is this like?


Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

"Brody passes by a huge poster for the film, ‘Juno’, I can’t tell whether what was a deliberate jab at Diablo Cody’s screenwriting Oscar, or not, but if it is, kudos!" Surely it ISN'T - it's because Cody mentions Argento in her screenplay????


Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

I was In Turin and saw they were shooting a scene with a guy arriving at the police station by motorbike delivering pizza... Was that funny in the film?? haha



sonaboy (12 years ago) Reply

not to be a grammar nazi, but it should be "Chandler-esque" and "grisly" - not grizzly (or bear-esque).


DirtyRobot (12 years ago) Reply

I don't believe for a second that this was intended to be a comedy, and Anonymous is right, this film is NOT a 'giallo'. Brody seems to be channeling every acting class move they must teach you in first year, and Seigner had two moves, screaming and dull eyed zombie. Argento's best days are LONG behind him.


witchred (12 years ago) Reply

Yellow Special Italian tv
Witchstory Team


Frank Granda Jr. (10 years ago) Reply

This review by Projectcyclops proves he is correct about ONLY one THING.. That he is NOT familiar with Argento's body of work at all. If he was he would KNOW that a TRUE Giallo is Argento's "Deep Red", "Opera" and "Tenebre"...While this film is one of the worst films in Argento's entire resume. The master, who was once called "The Italian Hitchcock" has lost his touch over the last decade. He needs to sit a re-watch his 70's classics and then try to make a decent film. Everything but absolutely everything about this film is a failure. It has such a lack of style, that it seems like a TV crime show. None of Argento's signature style is present. None of what made him once so great. The reviewer hasn't a clue of what he's talking about. His review is as off-base as Argento's direction has become. Not even the gore was on par with Argento's past work. A true bomb! (ZERO STARS)

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