Movie Review: The Monk / Cert: 15 / Director: Dominik Moll / Screenplay: Dominik Moll / Starring: Vincent Cassel, Deborah Francois, Josephine Japy / Release Date: April 27th
Satan, sex, scandal, incest and intrigue all wrapped up in this atmospheric adaptation of the 1796 Gothic Horror novel by Matthew Gregory Lewis. Vincent Cassel is the virtuous Capucin Ambrosio who has never known a life outside of the monastery. Mysteriously left on the steps of this grand, imposing structure as a baby his fate has fallen into the hands of a higher being. Director Dominik Moll mixes horror and melodrama successfully in this adaptation.
Ambrosio preaches goodness and thrusts judgement onto others but is lured into temptation easily. He has a devout following and the community hang on his every word, but inside he is struggling with raging migraines, sexual desires and prophetic dreams. An emissary of Satan has been sent to test him and lead him into darkness in the form of the raspy tongued Valerio who enters the monastery with a blank wooden mask strapped to his face after being horribly disfigured by a fire in which his family were killed. A frightening image that adds to the peculiar and curious nature of this wicked character.
Bugs, dark forces, ghostly apparitions and psychological tension dominate this elegantly shot yarn of moral and spiritual wrestling. Though the direction the story goes in may be obvious it is all about the way the tale is told. It reaches back to a tone reminiscent of late sixties and seventies religious horror and runs with it. Malevolence hidden beneath religion and hypocrisy take centre stage shown effectively through a story of a nun who is cruelly punished after partaking in sinful activity and the final act of the desperate Ambrosio.
Dominik Moll plays with visuals brilliantly; sparse shots of deserted land and rose gardens in bloom contrast the starved sexual urges of a man of the cloth with the natural fever of passion. The bright landscapes and the dark interiors of the monastery depict Ambrosio’s psychological struggle with distinction. The excess of the novel is replaced with a repression and brooding showing the torment of a man tempted by evil. Certain storylines fall to the side, which is a shame, but with the focus being on Cassel he performs with assurance and the intensity needed for the character.
Moll has taken the novel and adapted it in his own vision creating an involving depiction of one man’s fall from grace; the change from virtuous to untamed beast is handled exquisitely. Excessively harsh punishment, moments of absolute absurdity and rapturous overbearing music make this a gem of a film that will have you squealing with pleasure.