HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Friday, February 7, 2014

DEATH OF THE VIRGIN -- Blu-ray review by porfle

A collaboration between Canadian and Italian filmmakers has spawned the dark and disturbing DEATH OF THE VIRGIN (2009), which comes off like a fresh new approach to horror by stylishly recalling the past.

May (Natasha Allan) is an introspective young Canadian woman troubled by memories of her mentally-ill mother and visions of blood and violent death.   Having decided to get herself to a nunnery in the Italian town of Caravaggio, she's joined on the way by an irreverent art student and ditzy English blonde abroad.  The three women find themselves staying in a crumbling and very creepy old Italian villa staffed by a host of strange characters.

Here, May continues to have terrifying dreams that seem to foretell the actual murders which begin to occur around her.   It all has something to do with a supposed appearance of the Virgin Mary centuries earlier to a little girl who appears in May's visions.  These and other weird occurrences, including more horrific, ritualistic deaths, lead May into a maelstrom of evil that may spring from the depths of Hell itself.

With a distinct look and feel of 70s-80s Italian cinema, DEATH OF THE VIRGIN resembles lesser Argento with SUSPIRIA-like supernatural overtones mixed with touches of giallo.  But director Joseph Tito has a fluid, extremely deliberate camera style all his own and works overtime to keep things visually involving.  The art direction itself seems inspired by the paintings of the artist Caravaggio which will figure prominently in the story (including, of course,  the 1606 work "The Death of the Virgin").

The setting is intoxicatingly atmospheric, with interesting contrasts between the sun-dappled daylight idyll of the secluded villa and the shadowy, haunted nightmare world it becomes when darkness closes in.  Tito's camera takes its time picking out various details to show us before pulling back to reveal the entire scene.  The pace is stately as the visuals and atmosphere maintain our interest along with the ominous behavior of just about everyone May encounters. 

These include a stern directress with an anger-management problem, a bald, leering handyman with a satyr-like appearance, an old mute woman who incessantly plays the same dissonant chords on a piano, and an oddball mother-and-son pair distinctly lacking in social skills.  As May, Natasha Allan maintains a reserved and timid presence until the screaming starts.  Sicilian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta (THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, IL POSTINO) is earthily attractive and intriguing as Claudia, a wryly sardonic cook who seems to know more about everything than she's telling. 

May's dream sequences, while never quite as scary as they're straining to be, are always full of strange and interesting imagery and several of the now-requisite jump scares accompanied by blasts of music, which are unnerving.  The old "slow down-speed up" thing is effective at first but quickly becomes overused. 

Still, director Tito and his co-scripter Silvio Oddi (who appear prominently as, respectively, an art teacher and a police inspector) are brimming with imaginative ideas here, many playing on the ancient trappings and imagery of Catholicism which filmmakers seem to delight in exploring to nightmarish effect.

Violent, shocking deaths punctuate the story, none quite as extreme as Argento's opening setpiece in SUSPIRIA (although the "fish-hook" beheading comes pretty close) until the film heads into its outrageous final act.  All  of our patience with the film's slow and steady pace and comparative restraint is rewarded with approximately ten minutes of utter depravity that will leave all but the most hardened gorehounds aghast (but pleasantly so, if you're into this sort of thing) while springing a semi-predictable surprise or two on us. 

The Blu-ray disc from Indican Pictures is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby surround sound.  No subtitles.  Extras consist of trailers for this and other Indican releases. 

Argento fans should appreciate the effort DEATH OF THE VIRGIN makes to recall a time when directors relied less on CGI and more on atmosphere and imagination to evoke fear.  It doesn't quite achieve the stark terror that it's going for, but stylishly explores a sumptuous nightmare world of morbid, perverse imagery and ideas.

Buy it at


No comments: