Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tenebrae (pt II)

It it, I'd say, quite fitting that Tenebrae, as the first Argento film of the week that I hadn't previously seen, is the first that I write about with a little more space to reflect on it. And yet... still, I just don't quite know what to make of it. Was it absolutely stunning? Was it run-of-the-mill? Was it powerful and tense? Or was it just a bit silly?

As I was watching the film - up to about 2/3 of the way through, at least - I was none too taken in by it. It seemed pretty much your typical slasher. As per usual, it was shot beautifully, as per usual the deaths were gleefully brutal but... there really didn't seem an awful lot that marked it out from the crowded field. It has people being killed. It has ransom-note style anonymous letters. The lead character just happened to be in Italy at the time (this seems to be quite an Argento trope...). Mysterious phone-calls! Someone wearing a mask! The basic plot elements are all just a little too... average.

But this is Argento! So perhaps it was unreasonable of me to be concentrating too hard on the plot, after all. Again, however, I found myself feeling disappointed. Although there were a handful of interesting camera angles I felt like something was missing; why wasn't the camera taking such an excitingly active role as in some of the others? In this, I must now admit, I was just plain wrong. The camera work in Tenebrae is fabulous. It does half of the same things as in his other films but - crucially - you hardly notice it at all. This is surely the best cinematography of all, camera work that grabs you, changes the way you relate to the story and yet remains unobtrusive.

I'm still not sure, though. My appreciation of the film languished at a low-point throughout much of the film, rose unexpectedly to a fever-pitch of wow-that-was-awesome at the end but, with a day's reflection, has returned to something middling really. It's not that it's not an awful lot of fun, it's simply that it doesn't cry out in quite the same way as something to be remembered. It doesn't feel as gloriously unique as some of the others.

I should add, however, that whilst that assessment might be true of the film as a whole, there certainly were a few memorable moments. The extended scene in which a girl is chased by a dog (I really don't want to give too much away) was Argento at his sublime best. No dialogue, just a building tension (carried wonderfully by Goblin's score) that makes the scene almost painful to watch but impossible to turn away from. When Tenebrae gets it right, it gets it very right!

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