Amer by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, Belgium/France, 2009; 90 minutes

Abandon hope, all who enter here in search of plot, conventional storytelling or a clear indication of exactly what's going on. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Amer is both tribute to and feature-length emulation of the giallo, the Italian brand of feverish psychosexual horror mystery suspense that originated in the '60s and is associated preeminently with Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Gialli didn't so much defy narrative logic as wander dreamily away from it. What held the viewer - apart from the dread/desire to see one's worst expectations confirmed - was the overripe décor, the nerve-jangling music, the insane cutting and angles and zooming, the lighting that (in black and white or color) had the power to turn flesh radioactive.

Unquestionably, Amer knows its archetypes. There's this decaying Italian manor on a bluff overlooking a bay. Some terrible things have transpired there, or perhaps only been hallucinated there; either way, the lingering vibes are fearsome. A little girl creeps through the night trying to suss out what's happening in the adjoining room, or indeed under her bed. She may or may not be the nubile teen who, around midfilm, finds herself fascinated with/menaced by a cadre of motorcyclists steeping the village square in testosterone. And she may or may not be the stylish woman in her 30s who then comes (back?) to the still-crumbling manor to confront (become?) a killer. The filmmakers are presumably kidding on some level, but so assured in their technique that this near-wordless pastiche is more coherent than most actual gialli. Just watch the screen. -RTJ

Written as part of Queen Anne & Magnolia News coverage of the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival

Copyright © 2010 by Richard T. Jameson