Studio: Dark Sky Films
Director: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Writer: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Producer: Carlos Melendez, Andrea Quiroz Hernandez
Stars: Francisco Barreiro, Daniela Soto Vell, Milena Pezzi, Pau Alva, Aleyda Gallardo, Carlos Valencia, Evan Alducin, Tito Guillen, Vita Vargas, Jorge Molina
A mild-mannered man with a mundane marriage and office job plots to empower himself by abducting a schoolgirl.
Aram feels trapped. Trapped in a marriage with a nit-picking wife. Trapped in a job where hard work is unrewarded. Aram’s Johnny Lunchpail life is a rut of routine comprised of incessant nagging, uncompensated overtime, and a desperate desire to taste the lost power beaten down by ongoing emasculation and marginalization.
His unconventional solution for regaining some semblance of control? Trap someone else.
Driven by desires even he may not fully understand, Aram boldly plots to abduct a schoolgirl and keep her captive in an abandoned warehouse. When Aram isn’t occupied with meticulously monitoring the girl’s movements, he rehearses kidnapping scenarios by choking his senile father into unconsciousness, timing how long it takes to toss his own son into a car trunk, and consulting his preferred prostitute for wisdom on binding someone with rope.
Aram pulls off his plan and the resulting explosion of self-confidence pays off with an upswing of newfound success both personally and professionally. Aram has improved his own life by destroying someone else’s.
Now there is the matter of what to do with the young woman in the warehouse. No longer needed, Aram has to come up with an end game for her abduction. Except Aram is about to discover that his was not the only personality transformed by the trauma. And despite precautions like a Day of the Dead skull mask concealing his identity and conducting communication by paper letters instead of by voice, Aram overlooked one crucial detail poised to unravel everything in unexpected fashion.
Spanish filmmaker Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s breakthrough feature “Here Comes the Devil” (review here) was an arthouse-flavored dreamscape thriller. His English-language werewolf film “Late Phases” (review here) bore more mainstream horror appeal, with tinges of black comedy complementing the carnage.
Completing a loose, likely unintentional, trilogy of tales based around distressing disappearances, “Scherzo Diabolico” sees Bogliano confidently combining the auteur atmosphere of “Here Comes the Devil” with the loose cannon lunacy teased in “Late Phases.” Both styles, one rooted in cerebral chills and the other in visceral energy, are funneled into a clearer thematic narrative on this third go. “Scherzo Diabolico” comes out of Bogliano’s increasingly assured stride with an accomplished vision certain to dementedly delight as much as it disturbs.
The film’s first steps tread in a very dark direction. Act one is a slow-burning look inside a budding sociopath’s methodology with frighteningly relatable real-world parallels.
Aram isn’t a masked maniac with a disfigured face or supernatural stalking abilities. He is the Average Joe standing in front of you at the grocery store or seated next to you in the movie theater. Aram is a Dennis Rader-type of family man whose friends would describe him as “normal” without ever sniffing a hint of the horror milling about in his mind. Subtle psychological terror comes from witnessing someone so milquetoast and composed entertaining devilish desires in between bouts of 9-to-5 office boredom or innocuous encounters with his superhero cape-wearing son.
Abducting a teenage girl can be a controversy-charged plot point, even for horror entertainment. It may be important to note for those worried by the premise that Aram does not sexually assault his target, though he does humiliate her by forcing her to undress on camera, among other commands. Bogliano paints an uncomfortable portrait of the girl’s captivity, but spares the viewer any unnecessary time spent making those moments lascivious or more salaciously degrading than is required for motivating character transitions.
Bogliano isn’t aiming to titillate with this sort of scenery. He is setting up a mid-movie switch that upends expectations by nature of having a first half so tonally different from the second.
The story of “Scherzo Diabolico” introduces an unforeseen twist and from there, the film starts careening around blind corners with breakneck speed. If the first act is a gradual climb of anticipation, the last act is the payoff rewarding that patience with startling and satisfyingly insane action. “Scherzo Diabolico” is so fearless about melding two moods that otherwise shouldn’t work together, it creates a uniquely appealing viewing experience not soon to be forgotten.
Proceed with caution for personal preferences, particularly regarding subject matter, of course. Discounting persistently downturned thumbs, three different dispositions are likely to split opinions on the film. Some will connect to the psychological unease of the kidnapped schoolgirl setup only to become flummoxed by the flip into absurdist gore and brutality featured in the finale. Others will feel the opposite, responding to the fired up pace after being lulled by the exposition.
Then there is the third group. Those who appreciate Bogliano’s intent in fusing both feelings will come away seeing “Scherzo Diabolico” as a movie whose surprising shocks can inspire laughter or discomfort, sometimes concurrently, but always by being interesting and unpredictable.
Review Score: 80