Spanish director Adrián García Bogliano’s Late Phases was one of the best horror movies of last year, not to mention arguably one of the most accomplished werewolf movies of all time. It was a bit of a shock, coming from a filmmaker with no massive hits to his name thus far, that marked Bogliano out as one to seriously watch. Fans of Late Phases are poised to see what he’ll come up with next, but it’s doubtful they’ll find their good faith rewarded with the utter mess that is Scherzo Diabolico.
Loosely speaking, the Spanish language thriller follows a schlubby office worker named Aram (Francisco Barreiro, passable) who, fed up with his lot, decides for no good reason to kidnap his boss’ daughter (Daniela Soto Vell, good in an underwritten role) and hold her for ransom. As is customary, all does not go according to plan. Lots of sex, violence and screaming follows before a ludicrously contrived finale that would be kind of amusing were it not so dumb. Even the shot at redemption is forced, which is really saying something.
In a lot of ways, it’s quite shocking that Scherzo Diabolico is the follow up to Late Phases. Bogliano’s measured, gorgeously-shot werewolf movie was dripping with care and attention. This flick boasts aerial shots that are so dreadful, one hopes the desired (bad) aesthetic was intentional, even if it’s not immediately obvious why such a stylistic choice was made. Perhaps Bogliano wanted to capture the spirit of a telenovela? Maybe he wishes to be torn apart, late at night, by Joel McHale?
Whatever the reason, Scherzo Diabolico looks and sounds terrible. The performances don’t help matters, with everybody doing their best to behave as though they’re in an opera. Classical music plays a defining role here (the title of the film is a reference to a particular piece of music) but even die-hard fans will find the constant repetition of the same few bars draining at best, headache-inducing at worst. The twist, if you can call it that, is tied into this motif but it’s no excuse for such over-indulgence.
The reference points scattered throughout are really obvious, with our antihero donning a Dios Los Muertos mask while with his captive who he, quite literally, keeps chained up like a dog for most of her ordeal. These sequences account for the images that are being used to market the movie, but don’t be fooled, Scherzo Diabolico is more concerned with lengthy sex scenes and intense staring than it is with making any kind of worthwhile statement.
The treatment of female characters is problematic, too. Aram lusts after every woman in sight, and beds most of them for good measure, in spite of having a wife at home who, naturally, is presented as a shrieking harpy. Surprisingly, he only teases sexual violence against the boss’s daughter which, one assumes, is to assure us that he isn’t all bad, he’s just a man who’s been driven to the edge. Except he isn’t. Aram has a pretty good life, comparatively speaking, with as much stress as anyone else.
In fact, he doesn’t really have any redeeming qualities in the first place, even taking the whole kidnapping plot out of the equation. It’s a stretch to believe this whiny little shrimp lucked out with the woman he does have, let alone with anyone else. And yet, much of the film sees him pulling a colleague, sleeping with a prostitute, etc., etc. Films often thrive on forcing the audience to either empathise with a despicable character or plot his downfall but Aram is written so thinly it’s impossible to do either.
Scherzo Diabolico picks up speed about two-thirds of the way through, after Aram is finished with his ludicrous plan. After a reveal that is both contrived and laughably implausible, it hurtles towards an inevitable, blood-soaked finale that, although it’s peppered with nice moments of inventive gore, does nothing to soften the blow after what’s come before. Bogliano leaves us with a dreadful final shot (yet another aerial, of course) that is supposed to suggest some ominous portent but, quite honestly, it’s hard to care.
It’s difficult to suggest to whom Scherzo Diabolico might appeal. After the masterful Late Phases, it’s even more of a disappointment but, taken on its own merit, there’s little here to recommend. Implausible, dull, derivative and highly repetitive, it takes a well-known premise and toys with the idea of subverting it, but ultimately resorts to the same old tired clichés before collapsing in its own muddled, bloody mess. 91 minutes feels like 191 and you’ll never want to hear another piece of classical music again after this.
Director(s): Adrián García Bogliano
Writer(s): Adrián García Bogliano
Stars: Francisco Barreiro, Daniela Soto Vell, Jorge Molina, Milena Pezzi
Studio/ Production Co: Salto De Fe Films
Length: 91 minutes