Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In short: The Tomb (2009)

Rich Professor of literature Jonathan (Wes Bentley) falls under the spell (and you can take that phrase literally) of the student of metaphysics and sometimes killer (for magickal science!) and stealer of souls Ligeia Romanova (Sofya Skya). A bit of flirting, some absinth and a wee bit of mind-(penis-?)control magic later, Jonathan has ruined his engagement with musical singer Rowena (Kaitlin Doubleday), and marries Ligeia instead.

Then, Ligeia makes him buy back her family home somewhere in Russia so she can continue her experiments in immortality through soul-stealing in peace. Ligeia has a very personal interest in these experiments too, because she is is suffering from a strange illness that should see her dead shortly if she doesn't find a cure against death soon. Except for her illness, Jonathan knows nothing about his wife's plans (which makes me ask myself why she didn't just magick him into writing her a check), and will be quite shocked when he finds out.

And find out he will, because Ligeia's grip on his mind is beginning to slip the more ill she gets.

The Tomb (which was initially - and much more fittingly - titled Ligeia after the Poe story it is based on) must be the goth-est horror film I've seen in a long time. Not surprisingly, as that is too often the mainstream interpretation of the goth way, it suffers from a total lack of self-consciousness and humour, which would be less of a problem if the film's ideas of decadence weren't so darn square. Decadence: it's Russian women who like to dress in black, drinking absinth and going into movie goth clubs, at least if you ask scriptwriter John Shirley, whose ideas of evil have become quite trite since the last novel of his I read. This vibe of harmlessness surrounding the film's concept of evil grates with its determination to take it capital-e EVIL seriously, leading to a terrible case of po-facedness that also finds its way into the at times leaden dialogue.

I can't believe I'm arguing for more (self-)irony in a movie, but the film would need either that or a firmer grip on the emotional abysses it pretends to feature yet actually goes out of its way to avoid; revelling in the dark side of human nature only works when that "dark side" actually feels dark, and not, like here, just like a bourgeois imitation of darkness that lends itself only too well to be giggled at.

From time to time, director Michael Staininger manages to stage an effective scene or two in an old-fashioned Gothic horror mood, but for every good if clichéd scene there are two that seem to be directed by a robot who knows all the right techniques yet doesn't have a clue how to apply them in the right way. Turns out making a Gothic horror movie is hard.

The acting's all over the place: Bentley and Doubleday are just kind of there, while Skya chews the scenery quite admirably. If you like to see male actors who have seen better days look embarrassed, don't miss out on the appearances by Michael Madsen (who randomly starts to ACT!) and Eric Roberts (who is a nice Russian caretaker - no, really).

At least everyone connected with the film seems to be trying, which is more than I'd say about most torture porn films of the last few years. There seems to be at least the potential of Staininger one day making a film that comes together on screen.


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