(2009)4Jason BuchananCombine the perversity of Lucio Fulci with the flamboyance of Dario Argento, and you'll start to get an idea of what co-writers/directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani are striving for in Amer, a nightmarish, erotically charged tribute to the Italian giallo films of the 1960s and '70s. Drenched in rich primary hues, overflowing with off-kilter camera angles, and unapologetically abstract, Amer amplifies the ominous obsession with sex and death so prevalent in Italian horror and folds those defining characteristics into a highly original story that's macabre and erotic in equal measure. Essentially a film tailor-made by Italian horror fanatics for Italian horror fanatics, Cattet and Forzani's debut feature is a provocative, darkly seductive love letter to their favorite filmmakers, and as a result it possesses far more power than any tired remake or reimagining.
Amer is told in three acts, each revolving around Ana, who appears in the first segment as a young girl. The specter of death looming heavily over Ana's household following the death of her grandfather, the young girl discovers that her grandmother has been performing a series of strange occult rituals designed to bring her husband back to life. Later, after a harrowing encounter in the funeral parlor, Ana flees in terror to a room where her parents are making love, and then cowers in her room while being besieged by dark forces. The second act finds an adolescent Ana accompanying her mother on a trip into town, where the sexually immature girl finally gains a grip on her feminine powers. In the last segment, an adult Ana returns to the sprawling villa where she grew up, only to realize that someone is watching her every move.
Cinematic wisdom states that if you're going to steal, you should steal from the best, and that's exactly what Cattet and Forzani have done in Amer. But while the influence of Suspiria and City of the Living Dead is evident almost from the opening credits, the more time that we spend with the film the more apparent it becomes that the filmmakers' sphere of influence runs much deeper in the Italian canon, and even expands to include filmmakers like David Lynch and Shinya Tsukamoto. Despite some cursory dialogue in the opening segment, Amer plays out almost like a silent film thanks to the directors' reliance on iconic imagery to convey the essential plot points. The soundtrack, featuring vintage compositions by Bruno Nicolai, Ennio Morricone, and Stelvio Cipriani, creates the ideal atmosphere for the dark, impressionistic tale, and Manu Dacosse's tenebrous cinematography recalls the work of Sergio Salvati in his prime. Were it not for Bernard Beets' overenthusiastic editing, certain scenes in Amer would likely remain virtually indistinguishable from the genre classics that inspired it.
Sure, Cattet and Forzani occasionally lay it on a little too thick, but any fan of Italian horror would be hard-pressed to fault them, given that no one else seems willing to carry the torch for that specific niche these days -- few filmmakers have the temerity to transform a crucifix from a symbol of guilt into a tool for stealing from the dead like this duo. With Mariano Baino MIA and Michele Soavi having apparently turned his back on genre films, Amer is just about the closest we're likely to get to reliving the heyday of spaghetti nightmares, and it's just filling enough that most of us will be able to forgive the film its occasional faults, and allow the filmmakers their indulgences while we're joyously squirming in our seats.
The power and danger of eros plays a key role for three women of different ages who may or may not be the same person in this enigmatic picture. The film was chalked up by many as an homage to the gory European giallos of the 1960s and 1970s, but it's also influenced heavily by the narratively cryptic surrealism of directors such as David Lynch. Directors Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet undertake an episodic approach by dividing the material into three thematically linked segments. In the first, a young girl is at home as her grandfather dies and her grandmother begins performing a series of bizarre rituals designed to either bring him back to life or ease his passage to the next world; as this is happening, the girl becomes aware that her parents are making love elsewhere in the house. Years later, a teenage girl goes into town with her mother to run some errands, comes face to face with the power of her sexuality, and learns how she can use her allure to change the behavior of men. In the final segment, an adult woman returns to the house where she grew up, which has fallen into disrepair -- and discovers that she may not be alone. Amer was the first feature-length project from directors Cattet and Forzani.