Homage has dominated (some may argue, plagued) the horror market in recent years, from the retro ’80s to the luxurious ’60s, we’ve seen several eras recreated on screen to varying degrees of success. Rather than simply imitate, some filmmakers have inverted, distorted, and modernized these beloved styles into something entirely new. Giallo masters Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani provide the perfect example. This year, the duo returns for their third full-length feature, this time focusing their talents on a sun-baked heist thriller. While its story is rather incomprehensible (even for admirers of their previous work), the force of their filmmaking remains astoundingly immersive.
Three criminals steal a massive amount of gold and hide out at an old castle with the sinister Madame Luce. A woman, having kidnapped her son during a nasty divorce, escapes to the castle as well. Cops poke around their sanctuary, kicking off a deadly shootout between them, but as the day drags on, their psyches begin to break down until they employ desperate measures to survive.
Fans of Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears will find a similar style at play here. Corpses is a slow-burn excursion into a liminal dream space, but rather than mimic Bava and Argento, the directors appear to draw from Leone by way of Rollin. The style alternates between poetic and melancholic, almost silent at times, then bursts into frenzies of Technicolor violence. The calmer scenes are punctuated by a lush Morricone-esque score, which lends the film an odd sense of tragedy. The script is minimal, some may argue non-existent, but the cast brings compelling, strange emotion through their expressions alone. This is far from a character-driven piece, however.
Cattet and Forzani are exquisite sensory filmmakers. Their color palettes, lighting design, sharp editing, and highly detailed sound design all complement each other to immerse the audience in the worlds of their films. The worlds that they create are rarely realistic, but that is part of their skill—they sell their vision with such detail and precision that logic doesn’t matter. In this case, the sun dominates the camera with tangible heat, highlighting rich browns and blues; the crumbling castle also sports a series of bizarre, skeletal sculptures to add a layer of the grotesque.
The set pieces are the film’s real draw. The location and nebulous plot line allow for the directors to craft whatever image they feel is appropriate—a sex scene propped against a butchered animal, or a woman urinating on a man as his head sticks out of his grave, to name a few. Near the end, they execute one of the most impactful, impressionistic sequences of violence I’ve witnessed in some time. It’s a surreal viewing experience, and the bravado of the camerawork and the editing warrants celebration in its own right. But that doesn’t mean the film is perfect.
I would be lying if I said I comprehended the entirety of Corpses’ plot. Even during its scenes of violence, the pace drags and the script fails to establish character in a way that elicits any sort of empathy. The loyalties, motives, and relationships within the film are hard to understand from the start—and things only muddle further as the film goes on. It would benefit from a stricter structure, no doubt, particularly in regards to the characters. You can’t invest in people you don’t know.
Storytelling isn’t Cattet and Forzani’s strong suit, but it also isn’t their worry—they focus their energies on crafting a truly singular experience. While this may not be enough to satisfy every viewer, it’s thrilling to see such talented filmmakers stretching the limits of the medium. They convey images that haven’t been seen before, and that alone is an achievement. For a complex and structured thriller, cinephiles should look elsewhere, but for those who seek sensory immersion and exquisite craftsmanship, Corpses presents a rare gift.
Movie Score: 3.5/5