(La Setta) Directed by Michele Soavi. 1991.

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"We're an army in every city", cries the Messiah-like Damon after his distinctly unorthodox from the Rolling Stones' Sympathy for the Devil. Indeed, as a kind of post-modernist Rosemary's Baby, this outrageous third feature from Soavi could almost work. Almost. Soavi boasts his release from the clutches of Dario Argento despite the Great Auteur's presence as producer. Unfortunately, it appears that the young Italian needs some direction for this is all over the place. Part comedy, part fairy tale, part devil story, all ludicrous.

In Soavi's new-found independence, it is precisely his individuality that he has not achieved. Spending large proportions of his time dwelling on a cellar well, the director resurfaces with the imagery of Argento’s Inferno. His position is stated clearly upon Miriam's dropping of a key next to the fingers of a submerged body. Instead of following her grim task of retrieval, Soavi cuts from the quick - and the dead - and returns later with Miriam having got the key during the spectator's absence. This bizarre sense of anti-climax is completely displaced in a narrative that relies on anticipation and satiation of such. 

The singular style of both Stagefright, and The Church has dissolved into some distinctly lumpy images. Soggy blue silly string has never held so little terror in it's capacity here as water pollutant and a facially-adhering napkin is equally risible. The only genuine touch of startling surrealism occurs within Miriam's dream where glittering trees entice her attention to a tied and naked man. Miriam s replacement of him and subsequent dissolution into a nightdress of swampable size is an outstanding credit to the eternal malleability of the edit. But this is the wrong film for such dexterity. 

Soavi squashes all his surprises with similar nonchalance with no respect for his characters in their meaningless acts and gestures or patience-losing audience. "It is possible", adamantly declares a nurse after a deader-than-dead corpse has rampaged through the surgery, and puts it down to a "burst of adrenalin". It is at this late stage of the film that one may give up on pinning Soavi's intentions and this is nearer Almodovar than Argento. Once established (and there's no denial once the rabbit starts pawing through the TV channels on the remote unit) then one may laugh at everyone's expense until the turgid, clumsy ending. It is only too bad that the joke is on us. 

Ed Cooper

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