Like many modern films that fall into the niche genre game, Grand Piano and Blood Glacier owe much of their inceptions to other, old films. Thankfully, these two wonderfully audience-baiting flicks find new rhythms and maneuvers to allow them both to step out of the shadows of their obvious forebearers and become entertaining, even original, works. Despite indulging in the horror and thriller tropes, they become more than mere copying, spinning off into directions that are inspired by, but not beholden to, the classics.
Eugenio Mira’s Grand Piano has a thoroughly ridiculous premise that borrows liberally from films such as Jan de Bont’s Speed, David Fincher’s Panic Room, and, most strikingly, Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth. Much like that 2002 thriller with Colin Farrell as a man stuck in a telephone booth with a sniper’s rifle fixed on him, Mira’s films features a more-or-less single location with a lone man aware of the stakes and an escalating tension that is seemingly at odds with its intimate focus. Needless to say, it is a better film than Phone Booth, but that may be because the Spanish director (Grand Piano is in fact a Spain/US co-production) decided to reference Brian De Palma more than his most direct influence, Alfred Hitchcock.
There’s a playfulness to Grand Piano that is deeply rewarding. It’s slick, 35mm lensing is drenched in bold colours, interesting compositions and in some sequences a sense of virtuosic camera trickery. Despite its compact confines, Mira’s film recalls the more heightened sense of Hitchcockian style that ebbs and flows throughout De Palma’s Blow Out, Body Double, or Dressed to Kill rather than the elegance of Hitchcock’s boutique thrills like Rope or The Lady Vanishes. It is a style that is perhaps too obvious for its own good, and yet one that works. It elevates the film and allows its moments of flight and fancy to not strike one as absurd or over-the-top. The entire film is working on a level of OTT sublime that is as much seat-grippingly intense as it is giggle-inducing.
Naturally, the more the story unfolds, the more the previously unseen villain (John Cusack in the Kiefer Sutherland role, I guess) emerges literally out of the shadows, and the more that the means and motivations of his plan are expanded on, the film loses some of its edge. At only 90-minutes (80 when you take out the long and slow end credits – although you’ll want to stay if just for the wonderful score that plays overtop) this isn’t so much a problem as other filmmakers might have had to juggle with. Eugenio Mira appears to know the limits to his story and never pushes it to be anything (ahem) grander than it is. It does, however, benefit from being seen on the big screen where its bombastic, musically-enhanced sound design and striking visuals create the most impact much like Xan Cassavetes’ Kiss of the Damned from last year. Although VOD and blu-ray, it’s likeliest home to most viewers, will hardly deplete the film of its charms.
Blood Glacier, which screened as a part of the Film Comment Selects series at Film Society at Lincoln Center, features nods to Ridley Scott’s Alien and Larry Fassenden’s The Last Winter (and perhaps Dead Snow, too, although I have never seen it), but takes its primary reference points from John Carpenter’s The Thing with an eco-horror twist. Hailing from Austria, although set in Italy, Marvin Kren’s Blood Glacier is surprisingly effective despite yet again succumbing to the plot of a group of hot-headed characters confined to an isolated house besieged by monsters. After the discovery of a mysterious organism with the potential to manifest in increasingly grotesque cross-pollenated monsters, it’s a battle to stay alive for a group of scientists and politicians in the Alps.
Blood Glacier thankfully finds interesting ways to get every ounce of dread out of its story despite the audience’s obvious knowledge of how these stories work. Increasingly unsettling camera work that manipulate the Italian locales into mysterious chasms where a new breed of danger could emerge from any nook or cranny at any moment, effectively timed jolts, and some inventive creature designs back up a story that is at least attempting to have something to say about where we’re going and the way humanity is going about setting up its own demise, even if they use methods that one can truly only describe as redonkulous (the final scene had my Saturday night crowd guffawing as the clock nudged Midnight). Of course, those detours into comedy are intentional. I mean, Blood Glacier is a film in which a woman tells a man to keep ahold of the giant mutant billy goat while she grabs a power drill. He does. She does. It’s gross. But it works. I found myself audibly cringing and recoiling at its concoctions while jumping into the back of my seat on more occasions than i care to admit, which is certainly mission accomplished. It just so happens that the grotesqueness on display actually isn’t Blood Glacier‘s only reason for existence.