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Movie Review: “THE SONATA” plays an uneven tune

Friday, January 10, 2020 | Review


Starring Freya Tingley, Simon Abkarian and James Faulkner
Directed by Andrew Desmond
Written by Andrew Desmond and Arthur Morin
Screen Media Films

THE SONATA proceeds from a tantalizing idea, regarding a communication music can accomplish that spoken words cannot. It provides the basis for a film that hits some of the right notes without coming together as a fully realized piece.

Director/co-writer Andrew Desmond touches on themes of artistic creation, responsibility and influence in THE SONATA, though for the most part it’s a traditional tale of a young woman in a big, creepy house discovering that a long-lost relative was up to no good. Freya Tingley stars as Rose Fisher, a gifted violinist who, unbeknownst to her agent Charles (Simon Abkarian) and others around her, is the daughter of Richard Marlowe, who once composed a groundbreaking symphony before disappearing from the scene (“Rock and roll had Syd Barrett, we had Richard Marlowe,” Charles says). He also vanished from Rose’s life when she was an infant, and with her mother deceased, she has wanted nothing to do with his memory or legacy. Then she receives word that Marlowe has died, and she is the heir to his music and his mansion in the wilds of France—and the big Gothic keychain she’s handed signals before she even departs that it’s going to be a spooky place.

Sure enough, there’s plenty of atmosphere to the 11th-century stone pile she arrives at, thanks to the efforts of cinematographer Janis Eglitis and production designer Audrius Dumikas. While learning how reclusive and disliked Richard was, Rose also discovers something else he has left her: a violin sonata that seems brilliant in some portions and erratic in others, punctuated by unfamiliar symbols. For her, it represents a family mystery to be solved, while Charles can’t help imagine the payday that might result from Marlowe’s daughter playing his newly discovered masterpiece. As Rose discovers occult books on the mansion’s shelves and Charles learns the background and meaning of the symbols with the help of a music expert (James Faulkner), the sinister side of Marlowe and his muses begins to emerge—never mind that he’s played by the late Rutger Hauer in one of his final roles.

Hauer is too briefly seen a presence in THE SONATA—Marlowe’s portrait on the wall gets as much screen time as he does—with even Marlowe’s opening death scene shot as a point-of-view with just a quick glimpse of his face in a reflection. Most of the movie is concerned with Rose and Charles, and thus the audience, learning second-hand about his activities, and they’re separated for about half the film, with the intercutting a disadvantage to building momentum. Eventually, the two are united to puzzle things out together, but by this point it’s a little too late for the movie to fully offer the pleasures of following them as they unlock the visual clues to Marlowe’s mystery.

THE SONATA certainly succeeds in terms of mood, and has just enough incident to keep you watching, with Tingley and Abkarian convincingly essaying their differently driven roles. For a lot of the movie, though, there’s the sense that Desmond is holding back on the horror, as if addressing the rarefied subject of classic music precluded going full-bore with the scary stuff (last year’s THE PERFECTION certainly disproved that notion). At one point, things seem to be getting surreally interesting and—oops, it’s just a dream; after the hour mark, Rose makes a discovery that finally gets some serious creep on, but it’s latecoming enough that it feels like she’s stumbled into another movie altogether. Though there’s some punch to the climactic moments as well, thanks in part to the score by Alexis Maingaud, THE SONATA plays for most of its running time in a minor key.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM,, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.