The Laplace's Demon


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The LaPlace's Demon
"Played out as a grand, Fifties style Italian melodrama, the film is anything but dry."

"We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future," wrote Marquis Pierre Simon Laplace in 1814, contending that an intellect vast enough to comprehend and analyse the position of all "items of which nature is composed" would find the future no more mysterious than the past. Now generally seen as a moot point because of the limited computational power available in the universe, and weakened by advances in quantum mechanics, this scientific equivalent to the theological concept of predetermination nevertheless retains a certain charm, and it's absolutely perfect for the purpose to which this film has turned it.

A group of scientists, hoping to get help with the project they're working on, are lured to a remote island by a mysterious, eccentric man. The island is surrounded by sheer cliffs; after venturing through tunnels, they find their way to a lift which leads up into the Gothic mansion on the summit. But once they are inside, the lift stops working. There seems to be no other way out. They will remain here until dawn, says their host, speaking from a pre-recorded tape. They are now part of an experiment themselves.

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In the mansion with the prisoners is a strange clockwork model. It includes eight pawns - there are eight of them. Before long, one disappears. something terrible, represented by the black queen, is coming for them. But if their captor has perfectly calculated how they will behave and where each of them will be at any given time, have they any hope of survival?

The computational problem with Laplace's demon (as that theory is known) is rooted in recursion. This film, in may ways, verges on the fractal. There's the visible element of the model. Then there's the existence of the mansion inside a film, which invites viewers to assert their own beliefs about what will happen next and how the dénouement will take shape. The script sticks to the horror formula sometimes but subverts it often enough to remind us that our own intellects have their limits.

There's tension, throughout, between the grim yet reassuring fateful pathos of Greek tragedy (with classical imagery popping up at opportune moments) and the fractured, unpredictable world hinted at by the film's Gothic trappings. The question of whether or not the scientists believe they have free will is not just academic; their beliefs about it shape their actions. Ultimately, psychology is just as important here as classical mechanics (though it might be argued to be a derivative thereof). Played out as a grand, Fifties style Italian melodrama, the film is anything but dry. The effect is enhanced by stunning, noirish black and white visuals which recall the early work of Mario Bava, and by Duccio Giulivi's appropriately overblown score, which has giallo connotations.

An excellent choice for Fantasia, this is a film that may struggle with more general audiences, but even if you feel that you know nothing about physics or literature or art, you may well still appreciate its inherent creepiness and its effectiveness as an old fashioned horror thriller. The only thing it really lacks is Vincent Price, but with a host of capable Italian actors who play their parts perfectly to type (the standout being newcomer Carlotta Mazzoncini), it has plenty going its favour. You don't have to see it, but it would be a shame not to.

Reviewed on: 21 Jul 2017
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A team of scientists find themselves caught up in a deadly game of chance - in which they may have no chance.

Director: Giordano Giulivi

Writer: Silvano Bertolin, Ferdinando D'Urbano, Duccio Giulivi, Duccio Giulivi, Giordano Giulivi, Giordano Giulivi

Starring: Ferdinando D'Urbano, Walter Smorti, Alessandro Zonfrilli, Carlotta Mazzoncini, Silvano Bertolin, Simone Moscato, Duccio Giulivi, Simone Valeri

Year: 2017

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: Italy

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