The Embalmer (2002)

Genres - Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Erotic Thriller, Psychological Thriller  |   Release Date - Jul 11, 2003 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 104 min.  |   Countries - Italy  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Josh Ralske

The Embalmer is a creepy low-key thriller that starts out strong, but eventually devolves to an overly familiar Fatal Attraction-style climax. While there are three central characters, Peppino the taxidermist (Ernesto Mahieux), a mob-connected homosexual dwarf, is the heart and soul of the film. Mahieux brings surprising depth to what could have been a homophobic villainous caricature. He makes Peppino's obsession with Valerio (Valerio Foglia Manzillo) achingly real. With his diminutive stature, greasy comb-over, and overly solicitous manner toward Valerio, Peppino is a creepy character, but there's a mischievous spark in Mahieux's performance that lends him some humanity. Manzillo is well cast as the conflicted object of Peppino's affection. Still, his attraction to Peppino is just shy of believable. Then again, his relationship with Deborah (Elisabetta Rocchetti) isn't particularly well drawn, either. Beyond running into the sea fully clothed together during the requisite love montage, their bond doesn't seem particularly strong. Of course, these underdeveloped relationships could be part of director Matteo Garrone's cynical point, but Peppino, at least, is a character worthy of a more involving story. The film also doesn't delve too deeply into the work Peppino does, using it mostly for creepy atmosphere and Psycho allusion. The film peaks early, before it's clear what Peppino is up to as he takes Valerio under his wing, teaching him the dark art of taxidermy. Their first meeting is shown from a caged African Maribou's point-of-view. The film is well played, and nicely photographed, but it only hints at the psychological resonance it seems to be moving toward in the opening scenes.