Dir/scr: Raoul Ruiz. Fr-Ch. 2008. 87mins.
Raoul Ruiz turns to Balzac for this febrile horror set in a Chilean mansion in the 1930s. A wealthy American writer, William James (Barr) sits in a restaurant with an unidentified woman and hears diners at the next table gossiping about his life. This prompts a flashback to him winning Nucingen House in a card game and taking his frail wife Anne-Marie (Zylberstein) there to recuperate from stress and general frailty.
Its inhabitants are quite other-worldly. There’s an insomniac Matron; a female spectre in a black cloak surrounded by bees who stalks James and his wife; an odd piano-playing youth; a gaggle of Andean farmers who come and go at the back of the set; and an 18-year-old woman who seems slightly demented. That’s before Ruiz unleashes a white horse, a manager called Bastien who suffers from gingivitis, a narcoplectic doctor, and the possibility that all the above are malevolent spirits.
Nucingen House aims for surrealist gothic, a House Of The Spirits meets the Turn Of The Screw, but it never really convinces. Shot in DV, which is a harsh and unforgiving format for an evocative horror, it will struggle to find distribution and an audience to take it seriously - some of the scenarios teeter on the verge of absurdity, particularly towards the film’s conclusion.
The camera work is occasionally impressively creepy, in particular an arrival tracking shot, and the volcanic colours of the Chilean sunsets are memorably vivid, but the overall impression is of a low-budget feature in which most of the funds have been spent on the cast. All the players earn their keep, delivering high-pitched, theatrical performances, in particular Clermont-Tonnere and Marnay.
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