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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Vincent Cassel
Déborah François
Sergi López
Catherine Mouchet
Joséphine Japy.
Directors
Dominik Moll.
Screenwriters
Dominik Moll.
Running Time
100 minutes

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The Monk
Bad Preacher


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Plot
Medieval Spain. Ambrosio (Cassel), a famously pious monk, is seduced by Valerio (François), a woman who disguises herself as a young brother to sneak into the monastery, and is lured into greater and greater sins until the devil comes to claim his soul.


Review
The Monk
French writer-director Dominik Moll (Harry, He’s Here To Help) admits there could be many films of M.G. Lewis’ 1796 Gothic novel The Monk, taking wildly different approaches and even telling different stories. There have, in fact, been two previous attempts: a surreal 1972 film by Ado Kyrou (scripted by Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière) with Franco Nero, and a more literal 1990 version by Francisco Lara Polop with Paul McGann. This is the best of the three, but still doesn’t get to grips with the material, and whole subplots (featuring the Bleeding Nun, the Wandering Jew and others of note) remain unfilmed.

Vincent Cassel is strong as the title character, perceptively realising that a debauched merchant (Sergi López) enjoys confessing his sins. The plot follows Ambrosio’s inevitable fall from grace, as he is ensnared by diabolical forces embodied in a mysterious youth who wears a creepy mask to cover hideous disfigurement. After the first misstep — which, in a neat turn, leads to a fellow monk suspecting that Ambrosio has committed a different variety of sin than the one he is actually guilty of — the protagonist’s crimes escalate. Sundry essays in murder and rapine preface a terrible soap opera realisation — and the climax, inevitably, has a familiar old devil turn up to claim his due, Ambrosio desperately trying to strike a Faustian bargain to avoid suffering.

Moll’s approach, dwelling on the way the sophisticated, intellectual Ambrosio still doesn’t understand the world because he has been raised by monks, is workable, but there’s a spark missing. For a supposed succubus, leading lady Déborah François isn’t quite devastatingly sexy enough and horrors are on the tame side (certainly, a few mild raven pecks are nothing next to Lewis’ bloody insect attacks). There are some purple sequences, including a fevered hallucination after a venomous bug-bite which has a nice 1970s TV feel, and Moll makes wonderful use of the contrast between pitch-black nights and scorching Spanish days in the monastery courtyards and unforgiving countryside.


Verdict
An austere, cerebral reading of a book which is unfettered, blood-bolstered and wildly sensationalist — Lewis is the father of torture porn, not a master of subtle chills. It’s interesting and unsettling, with a charismatic lead performance, but nowhere near as shocking as it should be.


Reviewed by Kim Newman

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Monk
Empire Star Rating

A class production that's far removed from the usual conveyor belt filmed trash.

I watched the Trailer for this film some months ago and was intrigued, mainly because Vincent Cassel was the lead. The Monk (2011) is based on a controversial book published in 1796, written by Matthew Gregory Lewis. For the patient viewer this slow story will draw you back into a suppressive and superstitious time during the 17th Century. If you avoid reading the DVD back cover, you won't have any idea how this visual spiral is going to roll. Ignore the strapline on the front DVD cover... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bleedingcritic at 16:10, 11 June 2013 | Report This Post


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