Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/02/10 07:53:41

"No need to be afraid of subtitles - this uses the camera to scare you."
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2010 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: The most popular phrases being used to describe "Amer" tend to include the word giallo - it is giallo-inspired, reminiscent of the giallo films of the 1970s, etc., etc. This is true, but also misleading, because such descriptions often serve to subtly warn non-fans of the genre away. Everyone who enjoys good cinema and maybe a good scare should give "Amer" a chance, though; it's a thrilling, sexy, eye-watering gem.

It is split into three distinct vignettes: In the first, a young girl (Cassandra Forêt)sneaks around in her family's old house, catching glimpses of spooky things (as well as other things that people do at night). In the second, a teenager (Charlotte Eugène-Guibbaud), bored while while her mother visits the hairdresser, wanders off with a young man. In the third, a woman (Marie Bos) returns to her childhood home, now overgrown, but as evening comes, she finds that she may not be alone.

Whether these three are supposed to be the same person at three stages of her life or just represent three stages of life themselves is relatively unimportant; although you can find obvious links between the episodes, what is important is that each features its protagonist confronting sexuality and mortality. In the first, it's glimpses of her parents' lovemaking and an apparently mummified corpse; in the second, we seem to be catching her at the very moment she is blossoming into womanhood, a tipping point between pretty and sexy, with new dangers presenting themselves; and, finally, we see the house itself appearing dead and the lady sexy, but reserved in public.

Really digging into that sort of symbolism will likely require a second viewing, though, as the first one will likely be spent on things like biting nails and "look at that!" Filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani tell their stories in large part without words, though not silently - aside from excellent use of ambient noise and surround sound, they re-purpose giallo scores Tarantino-style (choosing a little Ennio Morricone, a little Bruno Nicolai, and a lot of Stelvio Cipriani) to build up the tension. That's already cranked nearly as high as it can go, as Amer is a master class in evoking emotion through cinematography and editing. The colors are lush, and while establishing shots will often make the lakeside town and manor look idyllic, the middle of action will pull into extreme close-ups and rapid cutting in a way that plays on the audience's nerves. Cattet, Forzani, and editor Bernard Beets excel at using that style to keep the audience on its toes or indicate that the leading lady doesn't know what's out there in the dark (and neither do we!) without making the events actually shown confusing.

And what we're seeing is some good, down-to-earth horror. The opening act is a quality kid's nightmare, with monsters not only under the bed but seeming to come out of every darkened corner, plenty eerie before the bony hands start with the grabbing and then a thrill ride. Despite little exposition being given, it's not hard to piece together one's own story from the iconic bits shown. The third act is similar, with what seems like a different monster presented in a simple but unnerving way; it also invites us to invent a history for its main character, perhaps including what goes on in the first part, or perhaps what has gone on in between. The middle is a respite of sorts, providing a different, sweeter sort of tension.

All three lead actresses do impressive jobs. Maybe Charlotte Eugène-Guibeaud has the hardest; I don't think she ever speaks, and though she seems to have a permanent teenage scowl, there's a full range of emotions going on behind it. Marie Bos is quite good, too, tense right from her entrance, holding something back, and breaking down as the danger grows. I confess, though, that my favorite might be Cassandra Forêt; the little girl does a great job not just screaming in terror but making her seem clever as well as scared, as well as nosy and otherwise not perfect.

All three headline fine miniature films on their on, but all three segments become richer and more intriguing as they are merged into a whole. The complete "Amer" is something special; gorgeous to look at and as tense as they come.

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