Rondo

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Rondo
"The plot here is simple, with room for just a few snappy twists, but what makes the film work is the combination of its very deliberate style and the supreme confidence of its delivery."

It's not uncommon for people returning from war to struggle in a world where nobody gives them clear instructions and everyday events seem devoid of meaning. Paul (Luke Sorge) is moping around the house so much that his sister Jill (Brenna Otts) feels drastic action is needed. She send him to visit a therapist. On arrival he is told that he could be prescribed drugs but, most likely, all he really needs is to get laid. Various suggestions are made about fetish-related activities whilst he sits there looking dumbstruck. Then he is told about a very special service that may be suitable for him. His prescription is an address and a password: rondo.

It's up to him whether or not to fill it. Of course he does, because otherwise this would be a very short film, and at the outset we were promised a more substantial, shocking tale by narrator Steve Van Beckum. When Paul arrives at the address, he is told to fill out a form and surrender his phone. A young woman (Iva Nora) enters the room, introduced as Mrs Tim, who is declared to be a willing participant in proceedings. She's quiet - demure? It's hard to tell if she's in subspace or on drugs, but Paul doesn't know what to do, so he just nods politely as he's told what he and the other two men who are visiting will be expected and permitted to do to her. He chats to one of them whilst the other goes into the bedroom with her. This guy is apparently a regular at such events, and his casual attitude puts Paul at ease. But later, going outside for a cigarette, our hero sees something that leaves him reeling with terror.

Copy picture

Rondo has been hyped as the most shocking film at Fantasia 2018 and something practically guaranteed to make viewers freak out. It's not, really, but the publicity has a certain charm - like that narration, it harks back to the exploitation classics of the Sixties and Seventies, and it really knows its stuff. From the design of the sets to the delivery of the dialogue, everything is note perfect. Though it deals with the subject of sexual violence, there's actually very little of that on display, and it has two formidable female characters right at the heart of the narrative. It features one other act of violence that some viewers may find particularly traumatic, and some of its violence is highly stylised, slowed down and shot close up so that we can see bullets ripping into bodies, but fans of certain kinds of art cinema, never mind horror fans, will have seen stronger stuff.

The plot here is simple, with room for just a few snappy twists, but what makes the film work is the combination of its very deliberate style and the supreme confidence of its delivery. Director Drew Barnhardt has approached every shot as a perfectionist and he's backed by wonderful cinematography from John Bourbonais. Between them they create an intense atmosphere, make everything look appropriately sleazy or beautiful (or both), and hark back to the era recalled by the narrative. Lionel Footstander contributes crisp editing and the performances are seamless. Rondo promises cheap thrills and delivers expensive ones. Its sleaze is a class act.

Reviewed on: 28 Jul 2018
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A invitation to cross sexual boundaries leads a troubled young man into a dangerous world.

Director: Drew Barnhardt

Writer: Drew Barnhardt

Starring: Brenna Otts, Luke Sorge, Gena Shaw, Michael Vasicek, Reggie De Morton, Kevin Sean Ryan, Steve Van Beckum

Year: 2018

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Fantasia 2018

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