Stefando Lodovichi’s chamber drama is one of those movies which can’t really be discussed without spoiling – always an issue for a reviewer, especially when it’s a movie that’s taking its time to pop up on international platforms (it’s out on US VOD, but no UK release so far as I know). I’m being a bit tactful in these notes, but be assured that it’s well worth tracking down – suspenseful, moving, horrific, imaginative and brilliantly-acted. Many films set entirely in one house go for a drab, claustrophobic feel but this emphasises the almost-surreal space of an isolated home – later in the film, we learn that a child brought up here has been told stories that transform it subjectively into a magical world and it’s possible we’re seeing the house of his memory rather than as it actually is.
The disorienting opening finds Stella (Camilla Filippi) standing on a windowledge in pouring rain, dressed in a bridal gown and head-dress, contemplating suicide by defenestration … but there’s an insistent caller at the door, Giulio (Guido Caprino), who claims he’s made a booking online to stay in a room Stella no longer rents out, for reasons which become apparent. She tries to put the caller off but eventually relents and lets him in out of the rain, and he mentions that he’s talked with her husband Sandro (Edoardo Pesce), who doesn’t live here anymore, and that he hopes to see him on this visit. Giulio is bespectacled, mild, charming and drops hints that he knows this couple better than a stranger should – but he also doesn’t ask about the wedding dress or why Stella is soaked. He shows Stella an album of pictures taken in Japan, where she has always wanted to travel, and rustles up ‘sticky potatoes’ to what seems to be a family recipe. Then Sandro, burly and aggressive, shows up – and the situation escalates.
Is this a home invasion drama? A tale of simmering revenge? A ghost story? A time-twisting science fiction film? A family therapy spin on An Inspector Calls? Or a remake of The Ref, with added torture porn elements? Maybe it’s about a warped adult revisiting a childhood and trying to spot where everything went wrong? In some ways, it’s all of these – and depends on the viewer guessing some of the revelations, but being surprised by how they play out. The house (arguably) has a fourth inhabitant, who doesn’t show up until the last act but who is crucial to the drama. Caprino, Filippi and Pesce are excellent separately and together – each gets to be victim and monster, and it’s the moments when they see themselves in their worst light that catch dramatic fire. Lodovichi, who devised the story and co-scripted by Francesco Agostini and Filippo Gili, gives it all a sumptuous, yet faded look – a curved staircase into a cavernous kitchen, a child’s room with cardboard fort and murals and even that unfeasably large and dangerous windowsill aren’t naturalistic, as if imperfectly recalled by a child (when we’re little we remember rooms as huge) with blurry gaps. Outstanding and worth seeking out.