The Monk is the latest big screen adaptation of
The Monk is the latest big screen adaptation of the classic gothic novel by Matthew Lewis. After being
abandoned as a baby on the steps of a monastery in the 17th century, Ambrosio (Vincent Cassel) is raised as a monk and
soon becomes renowned for his godly sermons and piety. As with all
serious men of God, the Devil makes a beeline for him, relentlessly searching
for a weakness.
Because Ambrosio was never exposed to the outside world, he has no
experience of the perils and pleasures that those in his congregation must
daily face and feel. This sets him up for a monstrous onslaught of
temptations, thanks to the all too real influence of the Prince of Darkness
himself. His troubles begin as a strange new face enters his life, in the
form of Valerio, a soul who has suffered much and wants to withdraw from the
world to be with God.
Cassel bottles up his usual angry energy, giving a brooding performance
as the distant but intense Ambrosio. The supporting actors aren’t as
strong, especially compared with this typically gripping turn by Cassel, but
their efforts are plenty adequate to not be distracting.
Marking director Dominik Moll’s
most ambitious project to date, The Monk offers a dark and oppressive vision of
17th century France. Fans of the book might be sorry to see that some of
the more visceral thrills found in its pages have been replaced by a more
subtle style of horror, one that creeps under the skin and leaves you feeling
uneasy. Moll brings out the elements of the subject matter that provoke
thoughts of real life horrors, things impossible to portray on screen; unseen
terrors which we all must face. That isn’t to say that the film doesn’t
provide thrills for the horror movie fan, it’s just that the focus is more on
the impact that Ambrosio’s testing has on his character.
Alberto Iglesias scores The Monk with a bombastic and almost over the top soundtrack,
full of ominous choral cues and Church-like echoes amping the eeriness. Patrick Blossier’s cinematography makes
striking use of contrast, giving most of the film a dim and slightly sepia
look, only turning the colour and brightness to eleven for a series of dream
sequences. These could have done with a more creative effort from Moll as
one would think that Ambrosio’s subconscious would be the perfect canvas on
which to further highlight how far removed his impression of reality is from
that of others.
The Monk is a haunting portrait of a tragically flawed character; a
well-intentioned man who finds out the hard way that his faith wasn’t so strong
after all. The film never pretends that evil isn’t a genuine power, a
refreshing concept these days and one that disturbs with great precision.
Go into this expecting to have your mind toyed with, as well as your emotions.