This review originally appeared on the Who’s Jack website in April 2012
27th April 2012
Dir: Dominik Moll
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Déborah François, Joséphine Japy
It’s a dark and stormy night in 17th century Spain. The wind is howling, a storm smashes it’s way through the night sky and a woman carries a baby wrapped in rags. That child is deposited upon the steps of a monastery inhabited by Capucian Monks, who decide that the child is a blessing and they will take him in and raise him as their own. The child becomes Ambrosio (Vincent Cassell), the most devout Monk and famous preacher in all of Spain, and for his sermons people will travel from miles around.
All sounds fairly straightforward so far doesn’t it? Well, from there on in, the film gets increasingly bizarre, in keeping with the Gothic novel of the same name that it’s based on. Director Dominik Moll, like anyone adapting a book for the screen, has had to strip it down to a narrative that can fit into a film, but he has certainly maintained the essence of madness and religious fervour that dwells within.
When one of the older monks, who is close to death, confides to Ambrosio that the devil is close at hand, we suspect he is talking about the latest addition to the monastery, Valerio. Because Valerio (Déborah François) wears a scary looking mask, which supposedly hides his hideously burnt face, and can cure Ambrosio’s crippling headaches with only his hands.
Ambrosio must remain pure and devout in the face of temptation, and this is the film’s central theme; whether complete religious devotion is enough to sustain a man. Will Satan tempt Ambrosio onto the wrong side of the tracks, or will our pious protagonist stick with the teachings of the good book?
There are parts of The Monk which are, quite frankly, mad as a barrel of monkeys. Not least the murderous nuns who sentence a girl to death for having accidentally become pregnant. The way in which Ambrosio is healed when he has been bitten by a highly poisonous insect, is… well, let’s just say not available on the NHS. And, from a technical viewpoint, there are several occasions in the film when the editor chooses to fade between scenes with a kind of spotlight fade, which might have been more at home in the sixties television series of Batman.
All of which makes for an unconventional and at times slightly incoherent, but enjoyably bonkers religious thriller. Vincent Cassel puts in a wonderfully brooding and pained performance as Ambrosio, and the atmosphere maintains a suitably Gothic level to suit this tale of the spiritual, the supernatural and the satanic.
3 / 5