Twitch's Review Roundup: KEYHOLE Mixes Ghosts and Gangsters to Limited Effect

Peter Martin, Managing Editor

Guy Maddin's Keyhole opens in limited release in New York tomorrow before rolling out across the U.S. in the following weeks. We've been tracking the film since before it began production, so it's no surprise that several of our writers were keen to take a look.

First, the official synopsis:

In a house haunted with memories, gangster and father Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric) arrives home after a long absence towing the body of a teenaged girl and a bound and gagged young man. His gang waits inside his house, having shot their way past police. There is friction in the ranks. Ulysses, however, is focused on one thing: journeying through the house, room by room, and reaching his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini) in her bedroom upstairs. The equilibrium of the house has been disturbed and his odyssey eventually becomes an emotional tour, as the ghostly nooks and crannies of the house reveal more about the mysterious Pick family.

Keyhole had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2011. Michael Guillen reported with his brief observations:

The applause was tepid ... His admitted genre hybrid between 'ghosts & gangsters," might take 10 years (as Udo Kier suggested during the post-screening Q&A) for audiences to understand, appreciate, or value. Myself, I admired the look of the film, its multilayered visuals, its sound design, and its oneiric approximations, but found myself wishing for more comic relief or at least one narrative tether to daytime logic. It could be argued that Maddin is at his best when he is making films for himself, but this is one dream I wish could have been shared a bit more generously with his audience.

Kurt Halfyard, one of Twitch's more obsessive lovers of all things Maddin, was also quite disappointed with this effort, only mustering up a capsule after the lukewarm vibe in the room at the films TIFF world premiere.

A film experiment gone horribly awry. All the right pieces are there for this to be a solid and interesting Guy Maddin film, but Jason Patric seems out of his element, and the rest of the ideas (ghosts stuck in their own haunted house, Homer-by-way-of-Freud personal spirit journey) never gel into anything but untidiness and narrative confusion - and not the good kind. It's also the first Maddin effort that I'd describe as visually unappealing, the Digital SLR cinematography is simply lacking something

Twitch's Jason Gorber, writing for his site Filmfest.ca, was a bit more positive:

Keyhole is equal parts startling images, incoherent moments, skewed camera angles with an oblique and barely comprehensible narrative. In other words, it's another in a growing line of Maddin works, a contribution to his run of cinema-out-of-time oeuvres that entertain nearly as much as they confound. ... Be comforted that you'll see nothing even remotely like it this or any year, and enjoy the delightful images that this cinematic iconoclast has once again provided.

Most recently, James Marsh expressed his dismay in a dispatch from the Hong Kong International Film Festival:

There's no denying the ambitions of the Canadian maverick, but this bizarre tale of gangsters holed up in a real haunted house is quickly undermined by opaque storytelling and amateurish performances from a cast that includes Jason Patric, Isabella Rosselini and Udo Kier. While Maddin's trademark visual inventiveness permeates every frame, all but the most hardened and stubborn of fans will maintain their resolve to the bitter end. An incredible disappointment.


Summing up, it sounds like those who are already Guy Maddin fans will want to check it out, while others may wish to wait for home video -- or attend with a Guy Maddin fan! Visit the official site, linked below, for theatre locations and playdates.

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