If films like Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” and Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” are too strange for you, then for the love of God, stay far away from Guy Maddin’s “Keyhole.” I enjoy the occasional weird flick from time to time, but Maddin’s picture is easily the most bizarre thing I’ve watched in the last few years. And it’s not one of those scenarios where the movie so odd that it’s good. Watching “Keyhole” is like being on drugs. Which specific drugs? Well, all of them.
Trying to summarize exactly what happens in “Keyhole” using my own words is pretty difficult, so I’m going to paraphrase the summary on IMDB. Gangster and father Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric) arrives home after a long absence, carrying the body of a teenage girl. Having shot their way past police, his gang sits in his house awaiting orders. Ulysses, however, is focused on one thing: traveling room by room through his house, to reach his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini) in her bedroom upstairs. During his odyssey the strange nooks and crannies of the home reveal more about his mysterious family.*
Ulysses has some pretty messed up stuff going on under his roof: there’s a naked old man in chains, ghosts, women disrobing, a tied up young man, and a teenager masturbating in a closet. Oh, and did I mention the film is in black and white? The lack of color only adds to its disturbing imagery, especially the old man’s junk. All of this nudity and sexuality clearly has some metaphorical significance to the story, but “Keyhole” is too pretentious to clue you in on what that is. Instead it’s satisfied to lead you down a confusing path for 94 minutes until you’re bored to tears, hoping it will just end.
Despite its intense oddity, “Keyhole” isn’t complete crap. Actor Jason Patric gives an intriguing performance as Ulysses Pick. The badass mobster’s wrath is feared by members of his gang, but he still knows how to use a softer emotional side with his family. Others actors in the film are relatively forgettable, although one amusing casting choice on Maddin’s part is fellow Canadian and “Kids in the Hall” alum Kevin McDonald. Seeing McDonald in a serious role just doesn’t seem right.
Maddin plays some interesting visual tricks, even though the film is black and white. An opening shootout between Pick’s men and the police is rendered with rapid fire cuts, which will leave you in a daze. There are also many ghostly images transposed seamlessly over the main action. Maddin's most successful endeavor is giving the movie an old school feeling to it, as if it was made during the 30s or 40s, something you don't often see in modern cinema.
For me, neat editing and directing were just not enough to rescue me from the disorganized story in “Keyhole.” If you’re particularly good at deciphering weird movies, it might be worth a watch, but everyone else should just skip it.
My Grade: C-
*IMDB summary written by “Distributor.”
IFF Boston runs through Wednesday May 2, 2012. For more information on the festival, please visit www.iffboston.org.