The Well


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Claudia Gerini and Lauren LaVera in The Well
"The distilled essence of European Gothic." | Photo: Frightfest

There’s something rather wonderful about the fact that at a time when the horror genre is more diverse than ever and developing in all sorts of interesting directions, people are still making films like this. Exquisitely beautiful, utterly predictable and very, very Italian, it’s the distilled essence of European Gothic, and it’s delivered with enough skill to make it a pleasure even if you’ve seen its like dozens of times before. Lisa (Lauren LaVera) is the young foreigner travelling to the remote Italian village of Sambucci on an art restoration commission. On the bus on the way in, she sketches a picture of a woman in Atlas mode, holding up the world, which seems to tell us something about how she sees herself – but her strength will be sorely tested by what is to follow, and the flipside of her confidence is dangerous naivety.

During the same ride she befriends two other Americans, Tracy (Taylor Zaudtke) and Madison (Courage Osabohine) – a young couple on a biology field trip – and their Italian guide, Tony (Gianluigi Galvani), thus providing the film with a stock of vulnerable secondary characters. Upon arriving, she’s waiting for the local bus alone when she’s approached by a man called Marcos (Jonathan Dylan King) who tells her that it has broken down, but that if she wants to get in his car, he’ll give her a lift - and she does. No monsters are really needed here. This time nothing bad happens to her, but it seems as if, things being as they are, it would only be a matter of time.

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The bulk of the action happens, as it ought, in a magnificent but slightly dilapidated mansion owned by a formidable yet welcoming duchess who wears prim old fashioned satin blouses with very pointy bras, and keeps a pet crow in a cage. The duchess possesses a painting dating back to 1493 which, she insists, needs to be restored in accordance with a strict timeframe. Having been exposed to a fire, it’s covered in a thick layer of soot. Lisa, who believes that it can be done but is worried about damaging it by working at that speed, arranges to sleep in the same room so that she can get to know it. As more and more of the image is revealed, however, she begins to have disturbing dreams. Is it just a reaction to the solvents? Of course not. We all know what’s going on here – would do even if we hadn’t already been privy to something of the horrors going on in the cellar.

Other pieces of the puzzle are slotted into place as Lisa works and, between shifts, wanders the halls. Out on the rooftop she encounters a girls in a blue velvet dress who sings haunting songs. This is Giulia, says the duchess – she has a “severe personality disorder... it’s like she doesn’t accept being 13.” Lisa is determined to connect with the child. The duchess herself, meanwhile, gazes into her mirror as if in imitation of a certain Ingrid Pitt character. As for those biologists, who chose to camp in a flimsy little tent in an area full of swirling mists and hooting owls, well, they’re not having a very good week.

As if alert to the risk that his film may drown in kitsch, director Federico Zampaglione adds layers of gratuitous nastiness which ensure that nobody can get too comfortable. Splattering blood is the least of it, with the special effects team having a whale of a time – even before it comes to creature design. In any other cultural context, these different stylistic elements would sit awkwardly, but here they’re perfectly blended. A natural choice for Glasgow Frightfest 2024, this film may be overplotted, overblown and fraught with logical inconsistencies, but it has oodles of style, and for fans of the subgenre it will really hit the spot.

Reviewed on: 10 Mar 2024
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The Well packshot
A budding art restorer travels to a small Italian village to bring a medieval painting back to its former glory. Little does she know the sinister secret behind it - or what is going on down in the cellar.

Director: Federico Zampaglione

Writer: Federico Zampaglione, Stefano Masi

Starring: Lauren LaVera, Claudio Nathan Brezzi, Yassine Fadel, Peppe Fonzo, Gianluigi Galvani, Melanie Gaydos, Claudia Gerini, Jonathan Dylan King, Elisabetta Klein, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Stefano Martinelli, Denise McNee, Maria Grazia Ortesani, Courage Osabohine, Tony Pandolfo

Year: 2023

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: Italy


Glasgow 2024

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