Ambrosio (Vincent Cassel) was abandoned at a monastery at birth, and has spent his whole life inside. Now he’s grown up and people come from miles around to hear his fiery preaching, and the young nuns go all fluttery at the mention of his name.
Naturally his perfect devoutness is too good to last, and the arrival of a new novice to the monastery, one who can never uncover his severely burned face, and who has the mysterious power to cure Ambrosio’s crippling headaches, brings temptation that Ambrosio is not able to resist.
Based on a famously scandalous Gothic novel, and set in 17th Century Madrid, The Monk promised to be both scary and salacious, but unfortunately turned out to be neither. I spent much of the film trying to figure out how it manages to be so particularly atmosphere-free, given the free gift of the naturally creepy nature of Catholic ritual, and the high-camp subject matter.
Vincent Cassel goggles gamely, but he’s hopelessly miscast in the role, which should have gone to a sexy young newcomer – this is the story of a sheltered young man’s first encounter with temptation, and Cassel, for all his acting chops, is not credible in the part. I got little sense of Ambrosio’s inner struggle to resist temptation, but there wasn’t enough shagging to make me not care. (Done differently it could have played out like a 17th C True Blood, which, let’s face it, would have been awesome.
This subject matter needed plenty of gore, melodrama and unsubtle scares, but the director has bravely tried to play it as a tense psychodrama – without managing to create any actual tension or suspense. An invasive and distracting score, and weak performances from some of the leads, are further nails in the film’s coffin.
If you’re jonesing for a thriller with monks in it, you’re probably better off rewatching The Name of the Rose.
The Monk is out on the 27th April.
- Julia Hilliard
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