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Premiering at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, KEYHOLE is the full-length feature follow-up to Guy Maddin's acclaimed MY WINNIPEG (2007). While fans will find themselves in familiar 1920's/30's black & white surroundings, Maddin has made a very challenging film in this haunted house mystery, even by Guy Maddin standards.
You either get Guy Maddin's films or you don't. My approach of looking at his work is that you are entering a spiral labyrinth and once you get inside it is best to just move with the action and energy without question. KEYHOLE plays like a 92-minute voyeuristic dream rather than the leap into pure narrative filmmaking, as the film has been promoted. While this picture will likely challenge even the director's most devoted followers (and frustrate the more casual viewer), Maddin should be commended on making such a personal and uncompromising film.
Based very loosely (and I mean very loosely) on Homer's The Odyssey and James Joyce's Ulysses, the film stars Jason Patric (THE LOST BOYS) as Ulysses Pick, a mobster that returns to his childhood home with his gang of thugs to take cover from the police. After a violent shootout at the film's outset, his gang takes hostages and make plans to stay for the evening. In reality though, Ulysses' plan is to uncover his own past, rediscovering his family and confronting the horrors within the house. The entire film takes place during one night and plays like a haunted house, with ghosts and personal revelations cropping up throughout.
Along with Ulysses gang of thugs, Ulysses brings along a young blind girl Denny (Brooke Palsson) who works as seer helping guide his way through the maze of the childhood abode. When the mobsters take over the house, we are introduced to a young prisoner named Manners (David Wontner). Ulysses is so blinded by his past he is unable to recognize that Manners is his last surviving son. Meanwhile his mother Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini) is mourning the loss of her family while her naked elderly father (Louis Negin) is chained to her bed in the attic of the house.
Guy Maddin has put together an excellent cast but Isabella Rossellini (BLUE VELVET) and Udo Kier (SUSPIRIA), despite being billed otherwise, are really supporting players, and it would be been great to see them get more screen more. It is Jason Patric's excellent performance that carries the film and holds it's surrealistic nightmares together. Patric plays the role straight and doesn't ham it up, which I have found some actors tend to do in "art films" like these. Patric indicated in the Q&A after the screening that he has really never understand the script, but in the case of KEYHOLE this works in his favor, allowing him to play the part with his own rhythm.
Director of Photography Ben Kasulke gives the film a beautiful look and Maddin has successfully moved from Super 8 and 16 filmmaking to digital, but the camera work seems lost at times. Perhaps this is the intention but this approach tends to lend the impression of chaos to the proceedings rather than a point of view. Standing in contrast to Patric's handling of Ulysses, Maddin tends to go for laughs and shock value throughout the piece by featuring penis statues and in your face nudity with no real purpose. In that sense, the filmmaker has really entered David Lynch territory, where the photography and atmosphere is sublime but the content is intentionally subversive.
KEYHOLE plays out like mystery that needs to be solved but like most dreams; once you wake up they don't make any sense anymore. So you may like what you see through this keyhole but you likely won't understand it...but then again, what haunted houses ever really do make sense?
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