Though it has a torture-heavy stretch towards the end, which defaults to ‘why are you doing this’ cliché, this is a solid essay in Belgian-Italian giallo – with some tricky misdirections for those who think they can spot where a story is headed. As befitting a film whose main character is a stand-in for Stephen King/Richard Bachman, it flirts with being The Dark Half and/or Misery and/or Secret Window but then takes other directions.
Juan (Joaquim de Almeida), a writer who has produced a string of inside-the-mind-of-a-killer books (under the pseudonym ‘Christopher Roth’), is piqued by a review which suggests he’s gone stale and shocks his publisher (octogenarian Ben Gazzara, sadly raspy and ailing) by going to a house in remote Umbria with his loving wife Catherine (Anna Galiena) and working on a book which seems to celebrate the small joys of life. The house is idyllic and magical, though in a now-obligatory minatory note it’s beyond cell-phone reception, and Juan gets to work – but, in a suspenseful sequence, the couple are imperilled in the wood when they wander into the path of a boar-hunt (Catherine is annoyed at being so scared, admitting that she used to be a proficient boar-hunter herself – setting up something for later), and then Juan learns that a serial killer called ‘the Boar’ (who adds tusks to naked corpses and poses them) is active locally. Expected to write about the killer, Juan is drawn into the gruesome story – and, further, the oddities of his nearest neighbours, widower Erik Cardelli (Francesco Guzzo), a big Christopher Roth reader; his unforthcoming daughter Giovanna (Jessica Bonanni), who has an odd dislike of people saying her name out loud; and hidden-away, boar-scarred son Filippo (Inigo Placido), who might have been shaped into a Christopher Roth-type monster by various cruelties and mishaps.
We get several stylised, giallo-style splatter killings (make-up effects by veteran Gianetto di Rossi) that might represent reality or Juan/Roth’s idea of reality (a red-spattering murder in an all-white bathroom) before Juan is hung up by the Boar (or our best suspect – there are possibilities that any or all of the five main characters are or have imagined the Boar) and forced to confront the kind of horrors found in his books. There’s more debate about the ethics of writing Roth’s kind of horror than in The Dark Half, though there’s a mismatch between his killer-centric books and murder scenes shot whodunit fashion to keep the killer anonymous while the victims suffer. It even has usefully deep undercurrents, like the outwardly idealised Catherine’s proficiency with firearms and the unexplained reasons why she’s married someone with such a well-publicised dark side. The ending, indeed the whole film, is open to interpretation as a Swimming Pool/Usual Suspects exercise in tale-spinning, but my preferred reading is that at least some of this is supposed to be happening, albeit in a manner which fuels Christopher Roth’s writing and career.