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Amer (Helen Cattet | Bruno Forzani, 2009)
The Italian giallo genre gets a stylish but slightly unsatisfying retread in Amer, an extended homage directed by Helen Cattet and Bruno Forzani. Told in three parts, this visually driven throwback offers memorable imagery that most explicitly calls to mind the work of the genre’s most famed director, Dario Argento. Each of the movie’s three segments recounts an erotic, disturbing, and slightly nonsensical episode in the life of a young woman, Ana. Where Argento’s work felt excessive and intense, however, Amer generally feels studied and meditative. Instead of inspiring horror, Amer inspires admiration. It works better as a cataloging of the giallo’s tropes than as a self-contained tale of terror.
That is not to suggest that Amer is not worthwhile. Fans of giallo films will likely appreciate the obvious generic reverence that Cattet and Forzani exhibit. From the countless extreme close-ups on eyeballs to the rainbow of color filters that they use, the directors clearly have absorbed the stylistic lessons of the films that inspired them. The only thing that seems to be missing here is an overblown Goblin soundtrack. Because the film is so committed to using the devices that powered an entire horror subgenre, Amer’s moody soundscapes and distorted imagery do indeed create a palpable atmosphere. Sex and death hang in the air, threatening to impose themselves upon Ana at any moment.
The main problem with Amer is that it is so transparently a stylistic exercise. While its attempt at giallo recreation nails the technical aspects of the genre, the film almost entirely jettisons the genre’s strong reliance on detective plots. As a result, the sense of mystery here is subdued, and the level of suspense felt while watching Amer is reduced in comparison to most giallo classics. There’s little sense for the viewer that the events are building toward anything meaningful. Even when the third act brings things to a close, and the psychodrama translates into physical violence, the main effect remains aesthetic.
Amer’s extended longueurs of characters walking around outside tend to emphasize sensuality over fright. The sexual subtext in the film has been so overcharged that there apparently is no room left for plot. Because the horror genre thrives on sensation, this is less problematic than it otherwise might be, but one cannot help but suspect that with stronger scripting and a greater sense of urgency Amer could have felt like a worthy companion piece to the giallo classics it recalls instead of a mere recreation of their most memorable shock effects.