Tuesday, January 07, 2020

The Sonata: The Devil is in the Score

Everyone thinks heavy metal is the music of the Devil, but there are way more demonic classical compositions, like Night on Bare Mountain, Danse Macabre, Totentanz, and the good parts of Carmina Burana. Richard Marlowe’s last masterwork could very well take it to a whole new level. It could literally raise Hell, but his violinist daughter will have to first figure out the bizarre score he left behind in Andrew Desmond’s The Sonata, which opens this Friday in New York.

Rose Fisher never knew her reclusive father, but hardly anyone really did. At one point, he was considered the great hope of classical music, before he mysteriously disappeared. It turned out, he was quietly working on his masterwork sonata in a creepy old French chateau, up until the point he decided to self-immolate. Fisher is a socially awkward prodigy who has trouble forging human connections, but the revelation of her father’s fate still unnerves her.

Fisher’s agent-manager-enabler Charles Vernais does his best to shield her from the world, but she is poised to drop him out of impatience with his slow-build approach to her career. However, they call a truce when Fisher discovers the score of her father’s final composition. The premiere of a new and final Marlowe work could be a sensation, but it will require some investigation, especially the strange occult symbols marking each movement. Those would be the power-signs used by an ancient secret society, who reportedly believed music held real, earth-shaking power.

The Sonata is a horror movie, but it is one of the few narrative films in the last few years that presents classical music with deadly earnestness. It is at least fifty times—perhaps one hundred times better than Richard Shepard’s The Perfection. It also features one of the late, great Rutger Hauer’s last screen appearances, rather hauntingly as the deceased Marlowe.

However, the real star is Simon Abkarian portraying Vernais, an unusually complex protagonist for a horror film. Yet, his classically tragic human failings are perfectly to a narrative about classical music. Abkarian is terrific in a slow-burning kind of way. Freya Tingley’s Fisher looks rather wan and lifeless in comparison, but James Faulkner (from Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey) adds some archly sardonic attitude and energy as Marlowe’s former associate, Sir Victor Ferdinand.

The Sonata is an impressive production that fully capitalizes on the creepy locations around Latvia’s Cesvaine Palace and Alexis Mainguad’s unsettling classical themes. As an added bonus (and respite), Vernais also listens to a jazz recording titled “Bibi’s Song,” featuring composer Bibi Louison on piano and Samuel Maingaud on tenor saxophone, which has a nice smoky, late-night vibe. Plus, the horror stuff really is scary, thanks to the way it evokes a sense of ancient evil. Highly recommended for genre fans, The Sonata opens this Friday (1/10) in New York, at the Cinema Village.