Tuesday, June 24, 2014

In short: The Keep (1983)

1940. A troop of German soldiers under the command of Hautpmann Klaus Woermann (Jürgen Prochnow doing his usual “good German” shtick that has little to do with the atrocities the real Wehrmacht committed quite without SS help, but you know how it goes with these things) takes control of an ancient, and rather strange, keep in a Romanian mountain pass. Some greedy soldiers accidentally free an Ancient Evil™ from its captivity, and soon, said Evil is killing about one soldier a night. Woermann finds himself helpless to do anything against it.

Things don’t improve when SS major Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne) arrives with his men to “help out”. Carting in a Romanian, Jewish scholar (Ian McKellen) and his daughter (Alberta Watson) just before they’re deported into a concentration camp only provides the Evil with a useful Renfield. Fortunately for those parts of the world who aren’t fans of the whole evil thing, our AE does have an Ancient Enemy™, too. A certain Glaeken (Scott Glenn) slowly makes his way to Romania and just might get around to doing some good.

I’m what you’d generally see as a good candidate to appreciate Michael Mann’s The Keep (based on one of the few readable novels of the mostly insufferable libertarian F. Paul Wilson), as I’m the kind of guy who often sees no problems with films taking a “style over sense” approach. Of course, most of those films don’t make heavy, yet empty gestures towards saying something profound about the nature of “Evil”, and aren’t as dull as The Keep is.

Pretty the film sure is, though, with Tangerine Dreams’ ill-fitting soundtrack and Alex Thomson’s beautiful photography producing some fine picture postcards with sound. Alas that prettiness is completely at odds with the tone the film needs to have to actually reach the effect it is aiming at. It’s rather difficult to feel dread, or even become convinced of the existence of Evil when the film’s visuals have nothing whatsoever to do with these things. Mann’s type of artificiality as a director is the completely wrong one here too, completely missing the mark of the dream-like state the film needs to induce in its audience to work, given the vacuousness and just plain bad craftsmanship of a script that drags out the least important scenes until they feel as if they were going on forever, and barely finds time for the important stuff.

One might think the really rather wonderful cast might manage to salvage something out of the script’s mix of dullness and disinterest in the themes its supposedly about, but all performances are just as dull and lifeless, the unconvincing and uninteresting dialogue delivered in ways suggesting everyone involved was replaced by a life-sized manikin of themselves.

The resulting film has such an air of boredom surrounding it I’m not even interested enough to find out what went wrong during the course of The Keep’s production (because this surely can not be the film Mann actually wanted to make); I’m just glad it’s over and I won’t have to watch it again until I’ve forgotten how little I care for it.

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