Growing up, I used to hear the nags and whispers telling me that the sweet shreds of WWWRrrock (picture Jack Black saying it*) and heavy metal were the devil incarnate. I mean, I believe some of us could relate to that opening whim in the Pick of Destiny, Your dad would come on into your room and spank yo’ a** for listening to that “barbaric” music. Then, you’ll experience a manifestation of Ronnie James Dio on your bedroom door, spewing words of wisdom for you to run away and start your rock band in the hills of Hollywood. Can’t relate? No? Ahhh, I guess I watch too much Tenacious D.
Moving on up to the glorious seasons of 2020, we have a flick that subverts all of that which was pure, all of that which was deemed… righteous, and desecrates it to the core with unholy wrath. Behold… your vessel of rotten injustice has descended upon us. Hark, ye Beethoven worshippers, ye apostles of Mozart, ye Tchaikovsky zealots, The Sonata cometh, and it is here to play.
The trailer for this film had been showing in theatres for more than a year. Whether I was watching Child’s Play or Annabelle Comes Home or Gretel and Hansel or Underwater, the same preview would be there. And every single time, the same delightful expression would dart out of my pretty visage:
It always struck me as another run-of-the-mill horror fest, giving away much of the plot and scares in its relatively lengthy trailer. After watching the movie, I can’t say that I had made a grave misconception.
Not tragically set in 1912 aboard the Titanic with Leonardo DiCaprio, Rose (Freya Tingley) is a self-made violin prodigy who has been enjoying success on the classical stage in 21st century. She lives a mostly solitary life, having neither ancestral ties nor any kin to share a life with. She is mostly tethered to reality by her manager, Charles (Simon Abkarian), who she shares a father-daughter relationship with (see, not so bad). However, when the tragic news of Richard Marlowe (Rutger Hauer), her biological father, reach her doorstep in London, she is willed his inheritance: the rights to his work and a shabby mansion in France. Just like good ol’ heiress, she travels to the land of love to find the answers to whatever brought her to France… Uhm. Yea. Just… whatever her motive was…
So, our lil’ bloomer goes about tumbling in the old mansion her dad used to stay in, taking into account the goth factor of the structure to do whatever a sane person would do under these circumstances. That’s right!
SCRAM THE SAM HELL AWAY FROM THAT GOD FORSAKEN DOMAIN Treat it like an Airbnb, explore, and relax in the porcelain tubs just cause.
One fine moment while she is snooping around in her late father’s office, she stumbles upon a few mysterious sheets of music which just so happen to be Richard’s final masterpiece. As she pores through the melody, Rose cannot help but notice several strange symbols dotted on the staves drawn across the lightly parched sheets which all lead to the big nefarious symbol on the scarlet cover. Cue title card. DUN. DUN. DUN.
I’m just gonna say it. The Sonata is a hastened piece of work that an indie band put out on the iTunes, barely hitting two meagre plays. Why? It’s because the plot is inconsistent with what it wants to tell. For instance, in the beginning, we are shown that Rose possesses disdain toward her biological father, claiming that whatever inheritance he had left for her was no good. Yet, she candidly flies off to France, knowing full well that she has several recording obligations/stage shows to open the door to that giant shack. Priorities.
Besides, the plot also sidesteps to the other character, which is Charles. The movie tends to meander about his screentime, forcing him to undergo an investigative mission. Where the movie ultimately fails is that it feels like an unnecessary filler because there was a lack of ideas. Take that away from the movie and it would have significantly shortened the runtime here, probably making it more focused and concise as well.
Look, the actors are not the problem here. They perform decently well, at times welling up into stronger territory. Nevertheless, it is the sham of a script that undoubtedly tarnishes whatever the movie set out to be because it does a little jig-a-loo and throws its pace out the window. Its inequality is felt throughout the film. It barely does enough within its script to make an effort to creep you out, and even when it wants to, it never actually acts on a particular horror beat, instead opting to leave the viewer hanging with a transition to daylight. Brows raised, it was frustrating.
Being one of Rutger Hauer’s last films before his passing last year, I cannot help but feel sorry that the legendary actor had a role in this. Hauer is barely in it, only showing up in flashback videos on the Internet or as a silent, still portrait. His role as Richard Marlowe is kind of an important figure to the characters, especially to Rose, but still feels inconsequential. it does not help that the movie opens with Richard committing suicide by fire. Indeed, this role will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
On a technical note, the movie does well with its shots. Cinematographer Janis Eglitis aptly rises to the occasion to properly give the subjects their spotlight in this grim fairytale. The camera is steady, always having a moment to properly showcase the movements and emotions of the characters with a certain flair to it.
Another aspect of this film that I would commend concerns its music. Aptly evoking spine-tingling shrills during some of the pivotal eerie moments, I felt the movie benefited from such. Without the gradual unsettling crescendos, you’d just be staring blankly at statues or sheets of paper, wondering what the heck is so scary about them. The big bad Sonata is also pretty well composed, eschewing a traditional minor composition to focus on dissonant semitones that feel unsettling.
To be honest, the Sonata is slightly more stable than initially conceived. Yet, it still succumbs to the ill-fated tropes that curse modern horror films. The unimaginative conception is fearful of itself, clumsily edited to back away from the scares that it probably could have achieved. It has no driving force, smashing on the pages of its ill-fated composition to churn out a hum-drum sort-of plot.
In musical terms: en retenant et smorzando.
I’m disappointed that I can’t show this to my parents as a point against the anti-heavy-metal stance. Gosh, if this was meant to be the antithesis of the movement against the genre of rock, it has failed its very purpose. Indeed, I believe The Sonata would have worked best had it taken cues from John Cage’s silent masterpiece… ORRRR…. if Dave Grohl abruptly popped out of the smoke in a horned red suit at the climax to teach our protagonists a valuable lesson of life and death. Would have been a flippin’ awesome pick to end the film in its adorable manner. Couldn’t be better.
The Sonata is currently playing in Malaysian cinemas nationwide.