We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
"The Monk" is an eccentric period melodrama with horror-flick overtones. Occasionally incoherent but never dull, the movie brims with weird imagery: figures in peaked hoods scurrying across windswept plains, nuns in opaque white veils, a bouquet rapidly wilting and then bursting into blue flames, a baby being pecked by crows. At one point, a group of men march past the camera. They are wearing crowns of candles on their heads; drips of hardened wax cover their shoulders.
Directed and co-written by Dominik Moll, a German-born French filmmaker best known for his clever thrillers ("With A Friend Like Harry," "Lemming"), "The Monk" stars Vincent Cassel as Ambrosio, a Capuchin friar with an ominous hand-shaped birthmark on his shoulder.
Abandoned as a newborn on the steps of a monastery, Ambrosio was raised to be a model monk: pious, perceptive, sensible. A skilled confessor and orator, he is widely admired by his Capuchin brothers and by the townspeople who come to hear his sermons. Cassel gives the character a credible holier-than-thou confidence. He wears a beard that effectively covers half of his face, drawing attention away from his mouth and on to his pensive eyes.
The story of "The Monk" — adapted from Matthew Lewis' influential-though-hardly-classic 1796 novel — is the story of Ambrosio's descent into sin and madness. It's lurid, silly, strange stuff — murder, incest, pacts with the devil — so it should come as no surprise that Lewis' novel was a Surrealist favorite. Luis Bunuel even tried to make it into a movie. Though Bunuel never managed to get his version financed, the Surrealist critic and filmmaker Ado Kyrou eventually made an interesting film — starring spaghetti Western icon Franco Nero, of all people — based on Bunuel's script.