Monday, December 04, 2023

The Portrait

Paintings that are maybe a little too realistic have been creeping out horror fans since Poe wrote his very short (2 page) short story “The Oval Portrait.” Calvin DuBose’s 1937 self-portrait is similarly disconcerting to behold. It almost looks like it could reach out and grab you. It especially seems that way to Sofia DuBose, who has come to the old DuBose estate to care for her husband in Simon Ross’s The Portrait, which releases this Friday on VOD.

Sadly, Alex DuBose is only a shell of his former self since suffering severe brain trauma. His wife is hoping something inside dormant consciousness will spark when he sees the estate he grew up in, but all that remains is his old propensity for violent outbursts. The grounds are still beautiful, thanks to Brookes, the rough-hewn care-taker, but the interior is rather gothic. Not surprisingly, that is especially true of the attic, where Sofia uncovers Calvin’s spooky self-portrait. Much to her shock, her husband is an eerie dead-ringer for his notorious ancestor.

In addition to his well-regarded paintings, Calvin DuBose had a reputation for violence and cruelty, but he was protected by the DuBose family’s money and power. Given their similarities, Sofia DuBose cannot help associating her husband with bad old Calvin. In fact, she starts to suspect the painting still holds Calvin’s spirit and he is exerting a malevolent influence over her spiritually vacant husband.

There is a lot of cool atmosphere in
The Portrait. The location is highly effective and the art and set design are first-rate, especially the paintings created by portraiture artist Fipsi Seilern, which really evoke the right gothic vibe. However, the slow pacing is a conspicuous issue. Frankly, David Griffith’s screenplay probably would have worked better as a one-hour installment of horror anthology. Too often, viewers can see The Portrait’s padding.

Nevertheless, Natalia Cordova-Buckley and Mark-Paul Gosselaar are both excellent as DuBose and Brookes, even though their big scene together, in which her traumatized horniness clashes with his reformed street gang evangelism is awkwardly written and utterly unconvincing to witness as it derails. Unfortunately, Ryan Kwanten was completely miscast as Alex and Calvin DuBose, just like he was in
Head Count and Section 8. On the other hand, it is nice to see Virginia Madsen chew some scenery as Mags, the scheming DuBose family matriarch.

The Portrait
is a classy genre production, but the execution should have been tighter. It is not bad, thanks to the elegant trappings, but horror fans expecting a lot chills and kills will be disappointed by its understated tone. Recommended for those who go for old school Gothic tales in all their stately woe, The Portrait releases this Friday (12/8) on digital and on demand.