Saint Bernard (2019) – movie review

Saint Bernard (2019)

Have you ever wondered what is it like to experience a 98-minute-long hallucinatory nightmare?

Gabe Bartalos, the FX master behind Gremlins 2, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Darkman, Leprechaun and Dolls, will bring you just that with Saint Bernard on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms May 14th via Severin Films.

But wait… on the official IMDb page the movie is listed as a 2013 release. What is going on? Well, Saint Bernard was shot – on Super 16mm and 35mm film – back in 2013, where it made a brief appearance at the fittingly named San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival, in Spain, but it didn’t find its way into worldwide distribution until Severin stepped up and gave it the treatment this movie deserved.

Saint Bernard follows a classical musical conductor (appropriately named Bernard) who unravels into the abyss of insanity through a journey made of hallucinatory visions, disturbing images, dark themes and pure madness.

Continue reading and check my final grade below… 

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My review is also available on IMDb – Saint Bernard (2019)

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This is not a movie for everyone, check the trailer if you don’t believe me! In fact, Saint Bernard doesn’t have a proper story, doesn’t follow any traditional narrative and doesn’t feature the common three-act structure.

It’s a movie that strives for uniqueness and originality, finding its best qualities in atmosphere, special practical effects (of course), and multiple meanings.

From the very first scenes of the movie – which features a turkey with a parachute as opening image – it’s established a dreadful and surreal atmosphere which relies on insane imagery, fantastic set design and eerie score. Although the movie’s bizarre nature might have made some scenes absurdly funny, there’s a very uncomfortable undertone throughout, ever since the main character is introduced on screen.

Even though the beginning sets the tone for this unique urban/capitalist nightmarish adventure, as the movie goes by it becomes weirder and weirder. The pacing is so well-done that it makes the audience overlook the episodic nature of Saint Bernard, and the weirdness of it all hooks the viewer from beginning to end.

Saint Bernard feels like an updated version of David Lynch’s Erasehead (1977) with hints to Tsukamoto’s audio-visual masterpiece Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), but it still manages to keep its identity throughout the entire runtime; it never feels derivative or already-seen.

Yet, what I think makes Saint Bernard truly stand out is that, despite its visual presentation, it never seems to put style over substance. In fact, this is a very ambitious film charged with plenty of interesting messages about society, religion, human condition.

Some of the symbolism in the movie is rather obvious but, as Sebastian’s descent into madness becomes more and more irreversible, also the metaphors become deeper and harder to pick up on, which warrants multiple viewings to fully appreciate. It is also outstanding how, towards the ending, Saint Bernard gives the audience a reason as to why they’ve been brought along in this journey: there’s a specific occurrence that caused Bernard to go insane, which is shown in one of the most disturbing sequences in the whole film. Be warned, though: not everyone will be able to stomach and digest this final reveal easily!

Due to budget restraints, it’s quite apparent that Saint Bernard suffers from a few technical issues. The main problems revolve around the sound design (especially when it comes to the dialogue) and camera-work: the hand-held camera provides a purposeful nauseating feeling but it also caused some shots to be accidentally out of focus.

Yet, some of the CGI isn’t very convincing, especially when pared with the amazing practical effects. Finally, the acting is sometimes too goofy and distracting to make a few scenes as disturbing as the filmmakers were probably hoping for.

Whether you think Saint Bernard is a nonsensical mess (which is partially true) or a phenomenal depiction of problems with modern society and human interaction (which is also true), I’d strongly recommend this film to those of you who are looking for a unique, unconventional experience. At the end of it, I was truly fascinated by Saint Bernard and I had to watch it again immediately: it provided me with an experience I won’t forget any time soon.

Saint Bernard                                    7.5/10

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