Monday, January 14, 2013

Dario wants to know... DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK? [Argento-thon]

Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005)
Director: Dario Argento
Seen via: Anchor Bay DVD (R1)
Rating: 3.5 / 10

Dario Argento has often been referred to as "the Italian Hitchcock," and in a lot of ways the name is apt. Both Argento and Hitchcock were at one time the premiere purveyors of suspense in their home countries, reaching levels of popularity high enough to achieve household name recognition. Argento has freely admitted his admiration for Hitchcock, and Do You Like Hitchcock? is his homage to the American master of suspense.

Much like The Black Cat was Argento telling a story inspired by Poe rather than adapting an older work, this film tells a new story that draws upon a number of Hitchcock's films. As with The Black Cat, a lot of the fun here comes from playing spot-the-reference. Unlike Argento's previous homage, this film (intended for TV) is a full 90 minutes long, and doesn't really have enough weight of its own to support an entire feature.

The film opens with a boy riding his bike through the woods, following a woman back to a dirty old cabin. It's clear from the way that he's furtively pursuing her that he's watching something he shouldn't. When he finally gets close enough to the window to sneak a peek inside, he's greeting with a vision of cackling women engaged in some bizarre blood sacrifice.

Don't expect too much of an explanation as to the film's bizarre opening scene - it's more an indicator that this kid is constantly seeing things he shouldn't, even when we flash forward to the present... The kid, named Julio, is now a film student currently doing research for his thesis on (wait for it): the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Apparently Julio hasn't seen Rear Window though, because rather than doing research he's constantly peeping into the neighbor's windows without any regard for the consequences. As someone who's writing this at time when he should be doing dissertation research, I can relate wholeheartedly to how difficult it is to avoid distractions. That's precisely why I DON'T work at home. (Not that I'd creep on people if I did - the internet is distraction enough.)

When he sees one of the girls in his daily peepshow at the video store checking out Strangers on a Train, he's intrigued. Understandably, his girlfriend isn't too thrilled with his sudden fascination for this woman. Things only get messier when someone kills the window girl's mother by beating her to death with a pestle. Against his better judgment - no wait, I take that back, Julio has no judgment at all - he begins following his neighbor, as he suspects she is conspiring with a friend. His girlfriend, now even less impressed with the state of their relationship, leaves Julio. "It's called stalking - I've read an article," she says. Although you probably don't need to have read an article to realize how bad things are going to get. Julio continues to become more involved as he tries to unravel the murder by drawing on his knowledge of Hitchcockian conspiracies.

"It's called stalking..."
The biggest problem with this movie: there are just too few variables. On the list of suspects we have window-girl Sasha, and her friend, Federica. Other than that, the only characters who get significant screen-time are Julio's girlfriend, mother, and video-store-clerk buddy. With such a narrow list of suspects, it's not hard to figure things out on your own long before Julio comes up with concrete evidence.

While it's a blatant homage to Hitchcock, this film would have been more interesting had Argento been willing to inject a little more of himself into it. The elements that push Argento's work into the nonlinear and surreal are gone, perhaps in an attempt to favor Hitchcock's more traditional approach and focus primarily on a tightly-wound narrative. But this means the film is ultimately pedestrian to look at with a plot that's too thin for the runtime.

It's interesting that of all the themes Argento could have picked out of Hitchcock's films, he chose to focus on that of voyeurism. This theme underlies nearly all of Argento's early work, and it could have been interesting to see how he interpreted it in the guise of a Hitchcock movie. Instead, we have this ultimately disappointing story that doesn't really offer anything new.

The Good

It's hard to pick out anything that stands out in this film, other than a few individual scenes. There's an attempted murder involving a bathtub drowning that's pretty brutal, but not much else. Hitchcock fans might enjoy picking out references too subtle for me to catch, but most are pretty blatant.

The Bad

The languid plot and small cast of characters doesn't do the film any justice when it tries to establish suspense. There's never really any question as to who's guilty.

...the Hell?

If witnessing a blood sacrifice isn't enough to teach young Julio that voyeurism is BAD, then I don't know what is.

The Verdict

Argento's attempt to pay homage to Hitchcock results in a film that's weaker than the individual work of either director. You'd be better off sticking to pure Argento or pure Hitchcock.

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