Thursday, 12 August 2010

Noel's Review: Amer

Directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, Amer is a Belgian, French language movie that I've been lucky enough to see ahead of FrightFest. Going in, I was aware of suggestions that it owed much to the work of directors like Argento, Fulci and Bava and was something of a love letter to the giallo style of horror film making. Of course, this was enough to peak my interest, but I have to say that ultimately I was in no way prepared for what lay in store for me.

Without going in to too much detail on plot, what I can say is that Amer evolves over a very tight 90-minute, three act narrative. In its first section, which is arguably its most heavily inspired by Argento, we follow a young girl exploring the creaking hallways and rooms of her childhood home. As she wanders from one place to another, catching the tail-ends of her parents' conversations and hiding from her terrifying lace-clad grandmother, we're treated to some of the most compelling and engaging cinema I've seen in as long as I can remember. With a light dusting of Guillermo Del Toro, this thrilling exploration of childhood fear and confusion moves comfortably between outright creepiness and mind-bending surrealism.

For the second act, we rejoin our heroine - although this time she is in her teens and outside the confines of her large and imposing family home. However, this new freedom brings with it a level of burgeoning sexuality that regularly seems as if it might explode on the screen at any moment, but manages to be intermittently subdued by moments of tension and the intervening touch of her authoritative mother.

In its final third, we return the house that had such a presence in the film's first half hour, along with the giallo-esque aesthetics that made it so powerful. However, this is not before a beautiful and hazily-paced taxi ride in which the threat of overwhelming desire is ramped up to new heights for its lead, this time a fully-fledged woman in her sexual prime.

In its first five minutes, Amer had me absolutely gripped and I stayed that way for every remaining glorious 85. Sure, in parts it more than a little reminiscent of 1970s European horror, but this is by no means the only trick it has up its sleeve. As a piece of art, this is a film that is as visceral as any I've ever seen. It has a visual style that is surpassed only by its stunning sound design, making every breath, every gasp and every bead of sweat as tangible for the viewer as it is for the characters on screen.

Elegantly paced, infinitely watchable and by far one of the best films I've seen this year, Amer is a film I cannot recommend enough. While the plot will undoubtedly leave some scratching their heads, this is an exercise in arthouse cinema that is as sensually involving as anything else you are likely to see this year - possibly even longer.

- Noel Mellor, Web and Social Marketing Co-ordinator, GRIMM UP NORTH

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