Director: Guy Maddin
Writers: Guy Maddin, George Toles
Starring: Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini
Producers: Jean du Toit, Phyllis Laing, Guy Maddin, Jody Shapiro
Country: Canada
Running Time: 93 min
Year: 2012
BBFC Certificate: TBC

Canada has its fair share of auteurs of international repute, ranging from the mainstream (self styled king of the world James Cameron, indie darling Jason Reitman and body horror expert David Cronenberg) through to the art house (Atom Egoyan, Denis Villeneuve, Denys Arcand). Guy Maddin definitely fits into the latter category, with his singular style. Love him or loathe him, there really is nobody else who makes films quite like Maddin.

Keyhole is his tenth feature and marks something of a departure in that it boasts a starry cast that includes Jason Patric and Isabella Rossellini. It is also the first time he has shot entirely digitally, eschewing celluloid for a Canon 5D (although the film still has the Maddin aesthetic). The most striking difference however is that it forsakes the autobiographical nature of his previous films (most notably My Winnipeg) for a more conventional narrative approach (I use the word conventional in a very loose sense). It is billed as a ‘rousing 1930s gangster picture’, and whilst the mise en scene references gangster pictures and film noir (black and white cinematography, rain) and contains much of the iconography (trilbies, guns) associated with them, the milieu, characters and story are anything but familiar. Anyone expecting a ‘rousing 1930s gangster picture’ will be sorely disappointed and should go see John Hillcoat’s Lawless instead. If you’re after an opaque and enigmatic film that seeks to explore universal feelings, then this might be for you.

Jason Patric plays Ulysses, a ‘deadbeat’ father who returns home one rainy evening carrying a drowned girl and dragging his adult son tied and gagged to a chair. His gang are holed up in the house, having seemingly shot their way in past the police at the behest of Ulysses. Meanwhile, his wife Hyacinth (Rossellini) lies in her upstairs bedroom with her new lover and her naked father chained to the bed. Ulysses goes on his odyssey through the house with the girl and his son (whom he fails to recognise) in tow, where they encounter various ghosts.

If it all sounds very strange and difficult to comprehend, then I’ve successfully conveyed the experience of watching this film. Maddin aficionados will no doubt lap it up, but surely this will not win over any new fans. It is a difficult and not particularly rewarding watch, as the themes and ideas it seeks to explore are lost in the ridiculous scenarios and bad acting. At least it is only 90 minutes long, but that is hardly a recommendation.

Review by Damien Beedham

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