Saturday, June 16, 2018

ICFF ’18: Compulsion

Forget the lurid sex. Clearly, the most fun anyone had on this film was during the location scouting. Somehow, they were able to shoot exteriors at Sacra di San Michele and interiors at what looks like the Palace of Venaria and the Villa della Regina. One would think such places would have some pretty rigorous permit processes, but somehow an S&M horror movie gained entrée. The sex and violence are the same old same old, but the locations are pretty awesome in Craig Goodwill’s English-language, Italian-produced Compulsion (trailer here), which screens today at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto, as part of the Italian Contemporary Film Festival.

This is Sadie Glass. You will be seeing a lot of her naked. She barely survived the weird games her former lover Alex liked to play, but she used the experience to pen her thinly veiled autobiographical first novel. True blue Thierry is the right man for her, but he doesn’t always come through at crunch time, so when Alex crashes her book party (a bizarrely dressy event for a Fifty Shades potboiler, at what looks like the Palazzo Madama), she lights off with him, back into the seamy underside of Turin nightlife.

It turns out Alex is staying at his business partner’s boffo villa, where he will be hosting one of his notorious parties over the weekend. Naturally, he wants Glass to attend, but he gets a bonus when she invites erotic dancer Francesca along on a whim. Everything is cool when they are just doing their Skinimax thing, but as soon as the party starts, the vibe turns creepy. Glass gets woozy, starts losing time, and has visions of ritualistic killings. Everything is a game Alex tells her, but the blood stains she finds the next morning suggest otherwise.

It still just boggles the mind that a bodice-ripper-and-slasher like this could shoot in such grand venues. Essentially, the tone is a lot like Eyes Wide Shut, but with the liberal addition of overt horror elements and far less symbolically charged subtext. Jakob Cedergren is a classy actor in respectable, crossover Scandinavian films like Across the Water, Guilty, and Terribly Happy, so it is quite surprising to see him playing (credibly enough) the smarmy Alex. We feel bad for Analeigh Tipton, because the film often leaves her hanging out there, naked and haggard-looking, in a really ugly and exploitative way. It is somewhat kinder to Marta Gastini, who plays Francesca as a Holly Golightly from Hell. However, Jan Bijvoet does right by the horror tradition with his scenery-chewing turn as Minos, the cadaverous butler.

This is a complete change of pace from Goodwill first film, the hit-or-miss dystopian allegory Patch Town, but it is far more derivative of prior works. Brian Clark’s screenplay is a rat’s nest of weirdness and howlers, such as Glass’s practice of reading her final chapter at all her publicity events, which any experienced author will tell you is the best way to maximize sales. The film is a mess but the stunning backdrops often serve as a welcome distraction. If you watch Compulsion, you will have a strong desire to visit the Piedmont region, but you will probably never want to see it again. Not recommended, Compulsion screens tonight (6/16), as part of ICFF in Toronto.