×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Monk

Dominik Moll's earlier work showed how good he is at finding the shocking in the mundane, but "The Monk" unfortunately proves he's equally adept at finding the mundane in the shocking.

With:
With: Vincent Cassel, Deborah Francois, Josephine Japy, Sergi Lopez, Catherine Mouchet, Geraldine Chaplin, Frederic Noaille, Roxane Duran. (French dialogue)

Dominik Moll’s earlier work showed how good he is at finding the shocking in the mundane, but “The Monk” unfortunately proves he’s equally adept at finding the mundane in the shocking. As intense and high-minded as its titular protag, this visually ravishing, dramatically austere gothic-horror homage, closely adapted from Matthew G. Lewis’ 1796 novel about a holy man’s descent into depravity, shuns the thrills of the original material to focus on its antihero’s troubled psychology. Despite a superbly cast Vincent Cassel, the result is a dry, uninvolving Freudian study with appropriately gloomy commercial prospects.

It’s easy to see why “The Monk” appealed to Moll, whose previous work (“Lemming,” “With a Friend Like Harry … “) deals with the evil lurking beneath respectable surfaces. But the pic is unlikely to generate much excitement even among viewers unfamiliar with the source text. The script (by Moll and Anne-Louise Trividic) strips out one massive subplot from Lewis’ novel, and oddly, the protag’s moral freefall has been realized with far less dramatic excess and general bloodiness than it had 200 years earlier.

After being left on the steps of a Capuchin monastery in Madrid as a baby, Ambrosio (Cassel) has grown to be a model monk, feared and revered for the intensity of his religious passion. But Ambrosio is having troubling dreams about a woman in red — dreams that turn out, unfortunately for all concerned, to be prophetic.

A masked young man, Valerio (Deborah Francois), whose face has apparently been destroyed by fire, is taken into the monastery, driven by a desire to be close to Ambrosio. On the night that Valerio is unmasked as a woman, Ambrosio is stung by a scorpion. His recovery from this injury is seen by the other monks as a miracle, but from this point, Ambrosio’s habits turn distinctly nasty. Figuring into the story in entirely predictable ways is a subplot concerning the virginal young Antonia (Josephine Japy) and Lorenzo (Frederic Noaille), a nobleman who falls in love with her.

Though the Bunuel-lite script is worked out with care and skill, the story and themes will provoke a yawn of deja vu from modern auds. Typical of the pic’s excessive caution and self-consciousness is the decision to use old-fashioned iris shots in and out of a scene; though understandable as a nod to gothic horror, it suggests a project that’s not taking itself quite seriously.

Widescreen visuals are sumptuous, the contrasts between the harsh light of the desert terrain and the darkness of the monastery reflecting the moral extremes of Ambrosio, whose face is mostly seen half-shadowed. But the film offers no new angle on tropes that were already tired a century ago, and the homage sometimes borders dangerously on pastiche. Set atop a hill, the monastery is too like Dracula’s castle, all hovering ravens and leering gargoyles.

Seemingly directed to remain near-immobile, Cassel makes a virtue of impassiveness, his gaunt features looking increasingly haggard as he negotiates his new world of dangerous emotion. Right from the start, when Ambrosio is receiving confession from a debauched man (“Harry’s” Sergi Lopez), the priest’s eyes convey a troubling hint that he’s taking the wrong kind of interest in the sordid details. Francois makes a lively foil, convincingly shifting from submissive innocent to red-lipped she-devil.

Alberto Iglesias’ score is lovely in its quieter moments, but lays the strings on too thickly when things become intense. Pic features two brief moments of full-frontal nudity.

The Monk

France-Spain

Production: An ATO Pictures (in U.S.)/Diaphana Distribution (in France) release of a Diaphana presentation and production, in association with Morena Films. (International sales: Memento Films Intl., Paris.) Produced by Michel Saint-Jean. Directed by Dominik Moll. Screenplay, Moll, Anne-Louise Trividic, based on the novel by Matthew G. Lewis.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Patrick Blossier; editors, Francois Gedigier, Sylvie Lager; music, Alberto Iglesias; production designer, Antxon Gomez; costume designer, Bina Daigeler; sound (Dolby Digital), Francois Maurel, Olivier Do Huu; associate producer, Alvaro Longoria; assistant director, Thierry Verrier; casting, Emmanuelle Prevost. Reviewed at Vertice Cine screening room, Madrid, Jan. 9, 2012. (In Palm Springs Film Festival; 2011 San Sebastian Film Festival.) Running time: 97 MIN.

With: With: Vincent Cassel, Deborah Francois, Josephine Japy, Sergi Lopez, Catherine Mouchet, Geraldine Chaplin, Frederic Noaille, Roxane Duran. (French dialogue)

More Film

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Little Woods

    Film Review: 'Little Woods'

    So much of the recent political debate has focused on the United States’ southern border, and on the threat of illegal drugs and criminals filtering up through Mexico. But what of the north, where Americans traffic opiates and prescription pills from Canada across a border that runs nearly three times as long? “Little Woods” opens [...]

  • Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping

    Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping $60 Million (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has become a destination for television visionaries like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, with deals worth $100 million and $250 million, respectively, and top comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle ($40 million and $60 million, respectively). The streaming giant, which just announced it’s added nearly 10 million subscribers in Q1, is honing in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content