The Sonata, 2020.
Directed by Andrew Desmond.
Starring Freya Tingley, Simon Abkarian, James Faulkner, Rutger Hauer, Catherine Schaub-Abkarian, and Matt Barber.
A young violinist unravels her long lost father’s past, triggering dark forces that reach beyond her imagination.
Music and horror belong forever entangled in a delicate dance that ends in pure unbridled evil. Take The Sonata. Something so bone-chilling, beautiful, and packed with Baroquian sophistication built on classic orchestral scores. Our ears hear violins weeping which brings upon this somber lulling sensation, only to have Andrew Desmond’s terrorization emerge from behind sheet music stands. I think of films like Grand Piano or Deathgasm, two vastly varying subgenre types yet both made stronger by the instrumental elements at hand. Desmond achieves the same kind of enchanting rhythm while his “sonata of the damned” echoes through castle walls, as audibly pleasing as it is effectively spooky.
Recording prodigy Rose Fisher (Freya Tingley) has just inherited her father’s estate after his untimely death. Richard Marlowe (Rutger Hauer), said to be the savior of British classical composition in the 80s, spent the rest of his life toiling away in isolation instead of becoming the phenom so many predicted. That’s all Rose knows of her notorious parent, who abandoned her after only fourteen months. Rose arrives in France with intentions of getting the remnants of a once-great musician in order, but finds an unpublished sonata that calls to her. Could Marlowe’s last collection of notes be the break she, and her agent Charles (Simon Abkarian), need? The piece’s illustrious connection to Marlowe would spark enough intrigue itself, if they can decipher the strange symbols marking each bar.
It’s with sadness that The Sonata presents one of Rutger Hauer’s final posthumous performances, as he plays a reclusive orchestral genius who keeps referencing “voices” behind his work. An introductory first-person sequence, recorded interviews, and scant “from the dead” vision are enough to showcase Hauer’s ability to make the most of little time. A veteran who’s there to deliver a few under-your-skin quotes, upping the levels of dread through tonal gruffness. For the amount Hauer is asked of, it’s a somber farewell befitting a tortured role.
The Sonata is all about atmosphere and tone and unease. As Rose returns “home,” she’s haunted by ghosts of her past in forms both expected and unknown. It’s a familiar setup that Andrew Desmond works into a softly condemning sense of trouble, which works to the film’s favor. There’s the faithful housekeeper who drops in for a scare, creepy artwork hanging on the walls, locked toolsheds with predictably unsafe secrets – the works. Desmond isn’t rewriting horror history, but his sleuthy and haunting narrative continually incants a most alarming chorus. Yes, this is a phrase of approval.
Freya Tingley takes her leading character – a workhorse, willful soloist with a penchant for success driven by ego – and runs with Desmond’s tortured caretaker arc. Simon Abkarian’s inclusion is mostly of a “friend” who becomes obsessed with possibilities of stardom, complementing Tingley’s stronger attributes by pushing into known realms of dangerous performance art. Be it impressing via string-plucky showmanship, making herself a known commodity while burying her father’s name, or encountering the horrors that await. Tingley shines as a standout who can play both shaken and empowered, as The Sonata unravels with each translated scribble on Marlowe’s page.
That’s the key here. The Sonata is not just about sheet music that can summon the antichrist. A larger story about cultism is supported by Desmond’s ability to spin gothic folklore that flourishes within its own capabilities. Do I wish there was more practicality when it comes to special effects and reveals? Of course. Does that tank a product otherwise well within its rights to disturb and offer finely-tuned sounds of exquisite tension? Not in the least. With a meager budget and discernably elegant horror ideas, Desmond works to assure fans have many a lingering number of highs to appreciate.
We’re only half a month into 2020 and already I’m being presented “under the radar” horror titles not to be missed. The Sonata is dreary, isolated despicableness set to a whimsically infiltrating score. I love being able to say we already have a “don’t ignore” genre title this year, so early, and I urge you to seek out Andrew Desmond’s latest if you’re into character pieces fit around a satanic goose chase with doomsday implications. Tightly wound, suspenseful horror that does exactly what’s promised and leaves you wanting more, but still aptly satiated. A film that examines the music industry and “catching your break” while also handling themes of grief, trauma, and hereditary fate. Oh, and it’s approvably creeptacular in slow-burn but sinister ways? Press play, friends.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).