Imagine an extended episode of the classic series The Twilight Zone as realized by maverick Canadian auteur Guy Maddin and classic horror director Jacques Tourneur with some early Mario Bava mixed in for good measure. Take some old-school haunted house thrills and blend them with mystery elements from Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, along with film noir lighting and overtones. You now have the beginning of what’s in store for you in the heady Italian chiller The La Place’s Demon ([Il Demone di LaPlace] Italy, 2017). This gorgeous, low-budget labor of love was seven-and-a-half years in the making, and well worth the wait.
Seven researchers and the boat captain that they hire sail to a remote island inhabited by an eccentric scientist, Professor Cornelius. The researchers are working on a system to predict the future by using mathematical equations. Their current project focuses on predicting how many pieces of glass there will be when a glass is deliberately broken.
When the group arrives at the professor’s isolated mansion, they are surprised to learn that Cornelius’s invitation was not meant to be a cordial one; he has plans to test his own version of the titular mathematical theory, which hypothesizes that if someone knows the precise location and momentum of every atom in the universe, they can predict behavior and occurrences down to the slightest detail. To give away anything more regarding the plot would spoil the fun and suspense that The LaPlace’s Demon holds; suffice it to say that the group members have nowhere to run, but plenty of reason to do so.
Director Giordano Giulivi cowrote the film with Duccio Giulivi. The pair have crafted a tense, thrilling valentine to classic science fiction, horror, and mystery cinema that results in a movie that is simultaneously fresh yet familiar. The screenplay takes a philosophical, logical, and mathematical approach that is wholly accessible. Fans of thought-provoking speculative science fiction and those who prefer their thrills to be simpler will all find plenty to enjoy in The LaPlace’s Demon, as the characters try to battle fate with free will.
Ferdinando D’Urbano’s black-and-white cinematography is simply dazzling, with an imaginative flourish that recalls both expressionist cinema and film noir. Giordano Giulivi’s direction is confident and riveting, with unique shots and pitch-perfect pacing. He is also responsible for the brilliant, highly stylized art direction, which includes beautiful miniatures, a clockwork machine that builds both suspense and dread in viewers, and rear projected backdrops, among other touches. Duccio Giulivi’s evocative score fits the proceedings marvelously.
The ensemble cast is terrific. The actors use a slightly exaggerated melodramatic style reminiscent of The LaPlace’s Demon’s Italian cinematic forebears, which adds to the charm of this film.
“It’s only when we believe things are impossible that they become so,” one of the characters in The LaPlace’s Demon states. Thankfully Giordano Giulivi and Duccio Giulivi, along with their cast and crew, believed in this credo. In doing so, they have created one of the year’s most unique cinematic offerings. For more information, including the intriguing production notes behind this remarkable achievement, visit the official English website at http://www.thelaplacesdemon.com/en/home-en/.
The LaPlace’s Demon screens on June 16 at the Portland Horror Film Festival at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon.
This is a revised version of this review, which previously ran as part of When It Was Cool's 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival coverage.
Joseph Perry is one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast (whenitwascool.com/up-hill-both-ways-podcast/) and Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast (decadesofhorror.com/category/classicera/).
He also writes for the retro pop culture website That’s Not Current (thatsnotcurrent.com), the Gruesome Magazine horror movie website (gruesomemagazine.com), and several other print and online film critique and pop culture magazines.
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