Directed by Paolo Strippoli, who also co-wrote with Jacopo del Guidice and Gustavo Hernandez, this is an intense drama which microfocuses on a fractured family in all sorts of physical, psychic, emotional and economic pain … but it takes place during a mass outbreak of insanity with a possibly supernatural origin which evokes The Crazies, The Sadness or James Herbert’s The Fog.
After a montage of murders witnessed by traumatised folk down through the centuries, the story begins with oozing evil slime in the sewers of Rome, which gives off a maddening mist that affects the whole city. We meet a range of characters who have petty resentments and quarrels, setting us up for later outbreaks of violence as black-slime-dripping infected act out on inner urges (no one has any suppressed dsire to do a right thing in any of these stories). But the central friction is between father Thomas (Fabrizio Rongione) and son Enrico (Francesco Gheghi), who are locked in mutual recriminations since the death of Cristina (Cristiana Dell’Anna) in a car accident which also crippled young Barbara (Aurora Menenti). Thomas used to be a successful chef – we notice this struggling family have a great kitchen – but is now working zero hours contracts as a driver or medical emergency call-out man … and Enrico is sulky, aimless and pretty much an asshole to anyone who crosses his path, except maybe the older prostitute he’s having an affair with (and eventually he ticks her off too).
Even before the weird gas gets to them, these people are hard to put up with – and only a stragegically-placed late-film flashback shows them as they used to be. It’s an ominous slow-burn, with subplots paying off in shock developents – the whole of the building is infected and there are a lot of casualties – and there’s even a layer of irony in the struggle towards a happy ending where it seems that the family’s underlying bond (stressed by the angelic little girl who doesn’t succumb to goo madness) might well redeem them as the black oily secretions transform into something like cleaning rain. Yes, they have a shot at a happy ending – but their behaviour during the crisis ought to rack up a whole new pile of guilt, with Enrico playing a prank on a security guard that gets several people (including his innocent best friend) killed and Thomas at the very least doing a shit job of responding to emergency calls. If a family hug-out is enough to let them live with it, then maybe they’re just selfish as well as self-indulgent.
It has a nicely gloomy, rainy, desolate look – all the locales are down-at-heel, semi-abandoned and grimy – and Strippoli does particularly well by the little subjective illusions or phantasms – the spectre of the dead mother nagging husband and son in different ways, a flat filled with significant party balloons. Though the characters might be uniformly unpleasant (the kid excepted) the performances are excellent.