Studio: Archstone Distribution
Director: Ben Samuels
Writer: Mark Garbett, Ralph Glenn Howard
Producer: Philip Glasser, Brian Hartman
Stars: Robert Englund, Diane Cary, Sean Derry, Daniel Gadi, Justine Griffiths, Alanna Janell, Stuart Stone, Bingo O’Malley, Joshua Elijah Reese, Neil Samuels
Fiction blurs with reality when a group of actors rehearsing in a secluded mansion find themselves transforming into characters from a mysterious play.
John embodies just about every clichéd stereotype there can be for a disgraced actor. Alcohol addiction. Distanced daughter. Even a TMZ scandal. So when a director he has never met pings him about a mysterious play no one has ever read, John has little choice but to take the only gig he can get. Off he goes to rural Pennsylvania of all places, where John and his fellow theater thespians, one of whom happens to be his estranged ex, are housed in a secluded mansion to prepare for their play.
With the motley mob assembled, their secretive benefactor/director/writer/co-star Nicholas at last reveals himself to explain the peculiar production. “Kantemir” isn’t just the name of this movie. It is the name of Nicholas’ play, which in turn is the name of an old village in Romania.
The “Kantemir” in “Kantemir” tells the tale of two star-crossed young lovers, one of whom has a murderous merchant for a father. No longer content to whip his wife or subjugate his servants, this violent man has plans for his daughter that do not include marrying a lowly actor descended from gypsies. Against the backdrop of plague-stricken Europe in 1810, the persons involved in this doomed romance are poised to clasp sword hilts to achieve their own ends, lest the tips of those foils meet the flesh of their stomachs, or their throats.
Unaccustomed to playing the heavy, John is surprised to find he has been cast as the villainous father in Nicholas’ oddly hypnotic story. He is more surprised to discover that all is not as it seems within the mansion’s walls.
Whenever anyone touches the old book containing the play, and the deeper everyone goes into developing their roles, the more the cast seems to be literally bringing their characters to life. With no one willing to believe the paranoid claims of a possibly delusional drunk, John may be the only person who can see Nicholas for who he truly is, and what he is trying to do as the line separating fiction from reality disappears.
Mention Romania in a horror film and exhausted eyes instantaneously spin with the question, “how soon until vampires show up?” “Kantemir” actually avoids predictable plotting in this regard. There are hints of creatures of the night and a bit of bloodsucking involved, but “Kantemir” is more fittingly described as a dark fantasy about reality-warping madness than as a vampire yarn.
People possessed by fictional phantoms and seemingly crazy claims concerning secretly murderous motives aren’t innovative elements in supernatural suspense. Yet “Kantemir” has enough of an intriguing concept at its core to veer slightly from the routine route lazier indie thrillers take. If only its trail sped down a hill of horror instead of slowly slogging up one, “Kantemir” might be more memorable instead of being mostly mediocre.
While it is probable that fans of Robert Englund will come away unimpressed by the movie overall, it is improbable that they will feel the same about his starring performance as John. Even discounting his most recognizable role, Englund is so often cast as a wordy or wormy psychopath that to see him for once playing a more mild-mannered man is a refreshing reminder of what he can do without mugging or makeup.
Englund diehards may be averse to admitting to it, but the actor can have a tendency to relish his onscreen personas with too much flair for melodrama, either by adding unnecessary import to unimportant dialogue or by extending an action past the point of poignant storytelling. Here, Englund is more reserved, which complements both his character and his evolved acting style.
Playing an aging actor stooping below his status while disenchanted with his working conditions may not be a stretch for someone who has spent decades in the B-movie grind. Yet it suits Englund to not have to be over-the-top evil for a change, affording an opportunity to see an experienced actor making middling material better through subtleties in looks and line delivery. It isn’t an unforgettable role for Englund, but it is a solidly portrayed one.
The rest of the cast similarly seems to be doing what they can to be interesting, or possibly to stay interested themselves. One chap with little to do as a dimwit actor/thug intones a Shatner-esque cadence for a hint of apparent levity. Another bounds around as a goofy stoner and one more plays a boozy bitch with a tart tongue. About two-thirds of the characters are basically bodies taking up space, though they at least have distinguishable personalities, even if their behavior leaves viewers nonplussed as the plot rolls forward.
John’s newfound nemesis struggles to measure up to these second and third tier players. Actor Daniel Gadi overplays Nicholas’ all-knowing grin with too much smugness to be taken too seriously. This kind of inconsistency in the characterizations and in their dramatizations is one stone in the movie’s shoe making for an uneven 80-minute stroll.
When it comes to “Kantemir,” inconsistency is the word of the day. Hallowed halls on Gothic grounds in a northeastern state make for an interesting setting, then production design adorns corners with cobwebs culled from a bag of Halloween Store floss. A to-the-point script services story adequately enough, but puffs up dialogue by following the evergreen insult, “go to Hell” with the lame retort, “I’m already there.”
Nothing sticks out as particularly poor, though nothing stands up as noticeably noteworthy, either. At the end of that aforementioned day, “Kantemir” is so inoffensively unremarkable when all things are considered that it can neither be loved nor hated. A touch underdeveloped, and also a touch dull, “Kantemir” is a mild movie that just simply “is.”
Review Score: 60