Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Director Guy Maddin's Keyhole comes fully loaded with the director's particular tastes: surreal worlds, obscure fables, ghostly characters, bygone era clothes and set dressings, visual fragments of what might be memories or nightmares. It's surreal, impenetrable, hysterical, stylish, ludicrous, it's more like a dream or a train of thought from Maddin's mind, beamed right onto celluloid. It is also constructed with many tips of the hat to gangster, noir and crime films from the silent and black and white era, another Maddin speciality. It will not be everyone's cup of tea.

In this surreal indoor odyssey, the setting is a bizarrely constructed and furnished maze of a house inhabited by the Pick family, where a gang of what appear to be 1940s era gangsters are holed up waiting. Head of the household Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric) suddenly arrives from the intense storm outside, towing the body of a drowned girl. A young man, bound and gagged, sits in the middle of the room, subdued by the gang. Ulysess's crew of hoodlums bridle against his authority, but the ice cool Ulysses has other things on his mind. He needs to embark on a journey through this strange labyrinth of a house, to reach his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini) who lives upstairs. But the journey is anything but an A to B trip, it is more like a fall into a kaleidoscope.

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As Ulysses passes through the house, memories, nightmares and ghosts seem to envelop him. It is never clear what we, and he, are seeing and hearing. Is Ulysses and everyone in the house ghosts, doomed to reencounter and relive fragments of their lives and deaths in this house? Is the house purgatory? What does Ulysses have to do with the drowned girl and the gagged boy? Who is the bizarre naked old man who is the phantom narrator?

There are hints, scattered across these fragments of sound and vision, at something terrible that might have happened. Perhaps everyone in the house died in some tragedy and this is the final stage act before they all fall in to hell. Perhaps this is Ulysses's personal hell. Regardless, the wild camera movements, strange blitz of image sequences, jarring lighting and a chaotic audio mix create a hypnotic experience to complement the haunted house of a setting.

Director Guy Maddin can always be counted on to bring something bold to the table, perhaps only he could fuse a surrealist odyssey art film with pulp crime motifs. Keyhole is a maze that might well frustrate the viewer: to many it will seem like the very dictionary definition of pretension. But it is probably unlike anything you will see all year.

Reviewed on: 13 Feb 2012
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A criminal undertakes a surreal and supernatural journey through his own house.
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Read more Keyhole reviews:

Anne-Katrin Titze ****

Director: Guy Maddin

Writer: Guy Maddin, George Toles

Starring: Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini, Udo Kier, Brooke Palsson, Kevin McDonald

Year: 2011

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Canada


BIFF 2012

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