To many horror fanatics, giallo is as dead as many of the genre’s fictional inhabitants, a victim of the changing times. As the slasher genre emulated many of giallo’s mainstays whilst including the perversion and quick satisfaction that the genre carefully abstained from, giallo fell further and further down the pop culture food chain. And yet, as time went on, the children who were influenced by the beauty, mysticism and class of giallo grew older and older, wearing the influences of the Italian subgenre like a badge of honor.
And now, as slasher films regurgitate their own films through endless remakes and sequels, giallo is finding an unlikely resurrection through their die-hard fans, carefully dancing the lines of nostalgia and kitsch to unite horror fans of all ages. High-definition transfers have allowed fans to revisit the classics through a new light, while instant streaming companies have given these once hard-to-find films an unprecedented level of accessibility.
And while the one-time giallo maestro Dario Argento struggles to find his footing in the genre that made his name, a new wave of filmmakers have decided to take the rebirth of giallo into their own hands. Enter Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, the French duo behind the burgeoning cult classic, Amer, which finally receives a proper Blu-Ray treatment just in time for the holidays.
Make no mistake, Amer is not the most accessible film; its segments jump from settings, themes and color schemes that may test the patience of the casual horror viewer. Amer dredges most of its horror from the formative years of a young woman, allowing fears of death, sexual abuse and isolation to manifest into a simultaneously sensual and nightmarish experience.
Olive Films offers a barebones Blu-Ray, yet allows the film’s quiet intrigue and eerie hypnotism speak for itself, making the high-definition version of Amer a gold standard for a new generation of giallo filmmakers.
Amer follows a young French girl, Ana, through different stages of her adolescence. In the first segment, Ana confronts the mysterious death of her grandmother whilst dealing with her own blossoming maturity. Following this segment is a tale of Ana’s social anxiety, battling her desires and paranoia in a world she still doesn’t fully understand. The film culminates in an intense story of Ana and a dangerous presence, who attacks as Ana finds herself isolated from the world around her. Three different stories told throughout three different ages, yet all under the same pair of eyes which allows the film to keep a visually stunning and cohesive narrative.
The directors, Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, employ their giallo influences from the first frame forward. The filmmakers adopt the voyeuristic and hallucinogenic atmosphere of giallo with surprising finesse, keeping their dialogue minimal and allowing the beauty of the dark images to tell their story for them. This is not only an effective storytelling choice, as Amer beckons for dueling interpretations and multiple viewings, but also allows the filmmakers to make the most of their limited budget.
Amer plays like a long-gestating labor of love for Cattet and Forzani. The deliberation behind every shot of the film parallels the maddening obsession within their film. Luckily, this obsession is conveyed with silent lucidity by a trio of talented actresses: Cassandra Foret, Charlotte Guibeaud and Marie Bos.
Amer’s dreamlike qualities perfectly offset the realistic, all-too-curious performances from these actresses, each externally representing the fearful desires of Ana as she matures. Cattet and Forzani not only allow these actresses to use their physicality to immerse themselves into the bright, seedy world they created, but also allow the audience to experience the bulk of the film’s horror through their eyes, which makes the actresses’ realistic choices incredibly effective. This is not to say the supporting cast does not hold their own weight; their limited roles are executed with such devotion that the overacting of Amer’s giallo predecessors is nowhere to be seen.
Many will wonder whether or not Amer is simply an homage to the greater giallo works before it, such as the work of Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento, or if it is a beast of its own kind. Worry not: even though the lingering terror and fantastic art design are reminiscent of the genre’s highest points, Amer plays as a much more restrained, intimate picture. The violence is a mere fraction of giallo in its heyday, but the danger is still as haunting and intense throughout Amer as any genre classic.
Amer’s appeal may lie in beyond the mainstream audiences, but the film is nonetheless an entertaining and endlessly captivating endeavor in revisionist cinema. This film, alongside the upcoming Berberian Sound Studio and David Gordon Green’s perpetually delayed Suspiria remake, may usher giallo closer and closer to a viable revival. Yet for now, Amer sits as a hidden gem for its loyal cult audience, who now has a high-definition transfer to salivate over.
Amer will not be the last hurrah for Cattet and Forzani, who can next be seen in the upcoming anthology project The ABC’s of Death and will return to giallo filmmaking once again with The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears.
Amer receives a great 1080p presentation in the 2.35:1 widescreen format. The film was transferred from its original 16mm copy, which keeps the grain of the film whilst bringing out the colors. HD enthusiasts can marvel over the clean, sharp picture quality and film enthusiasts can find pleasure in the original 16mm quality of the transfer.
Some high definition fanatics will cry out against the film’s grain, as giallo as a genre may call for the digital restoration of the picture to the best quality possible. However, Olive probably made the best decision in the happy medium between the grainy, original film and the digital clean-up of this release.
The Audio transfer is impressive, utilizing an incredible design by Daniel Bruylandt. The score plays crystal clear and the film’s ambient noise is emphasized brilliantly.
Unfortunately, the special features on this Blu-Ray are limited to a collection of short films from Cattet and Forzani, many of which present the giallo techniques they’d later go on to showcase in Amer. Furthermore, gore fans may find some of the bloodier moments of this package within these shorts.
Otherwise, the disc includes two theatrical trailers and one teaser trailer.
Amer is a great giallo film filled with passion, beauty and fright. Although the casual horror viewer may be turned off by the lack of blood and the slow-burn pacing of the film, its visual prowess can not, and should not, be denied. For those unfamiliar with giallo, Amer may be a great place to start, as its disciplined take on the genre would be a great stepping stone for a viewer unready for the fantastic exercise in style that the genre flourished as in the 1970’s.
~ By Ken W. Hanley