12 years after his last horror film, Italian Gothic legend Pupi Avati (who’s now 81 years old) decided to take another ride on the genre he shaped in 1976 with The House with the Laughing Windows.
In typical Avati’s style, Il Signor Diavolo (in Italian cinemas since August 22nd) is set in post-war Italy (1952) and takes place in the superstitious, very religious countryside. Detective Momente’ is sent to a small village where a shocking crime happened: a kid killed one of his peers believing that he was, in fact, the devil himself – hence the title, which can be translated to Mr Devil.
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Through a narrative that intertwines different recollections of the events from various perspectives, Il Signor Diavolo is steeped in gothic atmosphere, rural superstition and religious symbolism. However, after a very disturbing and shocking opening sequence, the film feels like an imitation of Avati’s cinema rather than a genuine movie directed by the legendary filmmaker.
Il Signor Diavolo tries its hardest to be mysterious and atmospheric, but the convoluted narrative structure makes it really hard to digest all the information inferred to the audience. At times, the film becomes a story into a story into a story, which causes the straightforward plot to turn into a messy sequence of elements the audience needs to understand and remember.
Despite the characters being nothing more than symbols – which is a trademark of traditional Italian horror – their presence doesn’t help the viewer to witness the story from different viewpoints: instead, we’re lost between a maze of narratives and storylines, with voice-over narration as a clumsy attempt at putting things together.
This confusion only makes the message of the film (about countryside religion and superstition) watered down and less impactful. As opposed to leaving the audience thinking about issues connected to toxic religion, Il Signor Diavolo ends with a twist that just don’t play out well due to the goofy and convoluted build-up.
The best characteristics of Avati’s cinema can still be found in the movie, though. The cinematography, filled with purposeful depth-of-feel shots and backed up by the extremely washed-out colours (the movie almost looks black-and-white), contributes to establish an overall scary and unsettling atmosphere. Short and relatively fast-paced, Il Signor Diavolo features a few gory and graphic scenes that are unexpected and, for the most part, really shocking.
At the same time, the hasty editing choices and the unnatural dialogues are a detriment to both the cinematography and the realism: some gorgeous shots don’t linger enough for the viewer to fully be amazed by them; a few odd dialogues between secondary characters give the impression of the movie being unfocused and all over the place.
In conclusion, Il Signor Diavolo is an inherently Italian picture that I believe most horror fans worldwide will not appreciate. It benefits from some breath-taking shots, a fantastic score and a few disturbing moments, but overall it feels convoluted, not well-directed and a bit obsolete. Fans of Pupi Avati might love it, but everyone else should go into the movie with quite low expectations.
Il Signor Diavolo 4/10
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