The Monk Movie Review
Directed by Dominik Moll
Written by Matthew Lewis (novel), Dominik Moll and Anne-Louise Trividic
2011, 101 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 20 August 2012
Vincent Cassell as Capucin Ambrosio
Deborah Francois as Valerio
Josephine Japy as Antonia
Catherine Mouchet as Elvire
Jordi Dauder as Pere Miguel
Geraldine Chaplin as L'abbesse
Vincent Cassel slips on his finest cassock for The Monk, a literary piece of French horror for the subtitle reading crowd. There might not be a bodycount, but a little class never hurt anyone, right?
In seventeenth century Madrid an infant is abandoned on the doorstep of a monastery. That child is adopted by the monks there and grows up to be top preacher Capucin Ambrosio. Nobody is a better monk than Ambrosio, who becomes something of a celebrity in his own monastery. But no one is unassailable, not even the holiest of holy rollers, and Satan himself sets his sights on disgracing Ambrosio. But as this is horror aimed at a more discerning audience than The Mutant Chronicles (the last film I saw that was about monks), he does so in a way that is heavy on metaphor and without fire and brimstone. When Satan does arrive, he appears in the form of a rather dapper gent wearing a fur coat and all the trimmings. Well, Dave Grohl and his Pick of Destiny would hardly have been appropriate.
Like the novel upon which it is based, The Monk is more Gothic romance than true horror. It depicts Ambrosio's fall from grace and the sudden upheaval of his brotherhood upon the arrival of a new face. It's very classy and intelligent filmmaking, but The Monk does not make for casual viewing. It's the sort of thing one really has to sit and concentrate on, and not just because of the subtitles. It's the kind of film where everyone whispers practically everything and the men sit in the dark, lit up from below like Queen in Bohemian Rhapsody. This is Vincent Cassel at his most tortured, artistic and French. The word 'pretentious' is overused by movie reviewers, but The Monk does feel quite a bit like Robert Downey Jr's spoof trailer from Tropic Thunder.
I feel like a lowbrow goon for not enjoying or appreciating The Monk more. It's very well made, ambitious, intelligent and looks a treat. A masked addition to the brotherhood is a memorably creepy touch, although it comes to naught in the long term. As expected, Vincent Cassel excels in the title role. But I ultimately felt every moment of the 101 minute runtime. The pretty, painterly imagery does a poor job of standing in for any drama or tension, and Ambrosio's inevitable fall never really seems to have any weight to it. We should feel something as he mopes about the desert being pecked at by crows, but there's nothing there.
The road to Hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. The Monk has plenty of those, and some occasionally excellent cinematography too. However, this mad monk movie just isn't quite mad enough.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screener.