The dark side of poetry. Muse – movie review

Muse is a 2018 Spanish/Irish film, directed by Jaume Balaguerò, a director I have a love/hate relationship with.

The guy directed [Rec] (2007) and [Rec] 2 (2009), two of the best found-footage movies ever made, and wrote and directed Bed Time (2011), a vastly underrated thriller that is, in my humble opinion, more terrifying than 90% of the American horror flicks that came out in the last 20 years.

Unfortunately, Balaguerò directed also Fragile: A Ghost Story (2005), a no-budget schlock paranormal flick, and wrote the shamefully awful script for Inside (2018), the atrocious remake of the fantastic French shocker A l’Interieur (2007).

Muse 1Naturally, I went into Muse rather conflicted. However, plot and cast (which includes Franka Potente, Elliot Cowan, Ana Ularu and Cristopher Lloyd!) really convinced me to watch it: the movie opens with English literature professor Samuel (Cowan) dating a student who, out of the blue, commits suicide in his place. One year later, Samuel is still trying to cope with grief, when he starts having horrible nightmares that seem to be more than just that. Later, Samuel meets Rachel (Ularu), a girl who’s got the same gift as the professor, and together they start investigating on a murder mystery they foresaw in their dreams. Far from being a regular crime scenario, Samuel and Rachel (backed up by another literature teacher played by Potente) soon find themselves fighting for their lives and souls…

Based on a novel by José Carlos Somoza, Muse shows the struggle of adapting a complex story for the big screen, since the plot here is very convoluted: in fact, the synopsis I wrote in the previous paragraph only scratches the surface of what this film is about.

Although Muse might be hard to follow story-wise, with an important plot point added after the other throughout the whole 104-minute-long runtime, it surely isn’t tough to watch. Quite the opposite, since this is a visually stunning film, where colour scheme (pale, under-saturated colours) and cinematography create an atmospheric, almost gothic look and feel. Yet, the score fitted the overall atmosphere subtly and perfectly, with its thrifty presence only where needed.

Muse 2With a strong first act, Muse establishes a dark fairy tale tone backed up by seamless horror elements that are rather creepy, despite not being scary in a traditional sense (the movie features only one, quite effective jump-scare). The performances are all-around convincing, including the children’s acting, which is never distracting nor subpar: Potente and Lloyd are great, despite the limited screen time they’re given. On the contrary, I didn’t really buy into Cowan’s character, whose acting seemed too dramatic and over-the-top at parts – his recurrent squinty eyes started to bug me after a while.

However, Muse suffers from the overreliance on horror tropes. Here, I’m not referring to jump-scares nor dream sequences, more so to a few, unconvincing, ways to carry the plot along: for example, since the movie is set in present time, I didn’t understand the multiple research scenes set in libraries, since the same research could have been conducted on a smartphone, googling what the characters were looking for.

Also, as I said before, the story gets too convoluted for its own good – I don’t usually mind complex storylines, because they show respect towards the audience, but here the movie really struggled to condense into a short runtime all the elements that one can find in the 300-page-long novel the film is based on.

Muse 3Yet, more than once Muse felt rather tame, holding back in certain scenes that would have been more effective if they went all-out gory and violent. At the same time, one specific scene involving Franka Potente’s character made great use of the clever ‘the less, the better’ type of technique, resulting in one of the most impactful moments of the entire film.

Overall, I’m quite conflicted about Muse: this movie had everything to be fantastic and, in some ways, it’s definitely an incredible film; however, a few plot holes and formulaic directorial choices, held it back quite a bit. Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of unconventional horror filmmaking with original stories, Muse won’t be a let down.

Muse                          7/10

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imdb My review is also available on IMDb – Muse

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