Saint

Certificate: 18
Running time: 85 mins
Director: Dick Maas
Starring: Huub Stapel, Egbert Jan Weeber, Caro Lenssen
Genre: Horror
Format: DVD
Country: Holland

It’s quite difficult to make a horror film these days that either avoids the genre defined trappings or approaches them in an interesting and new way to create a fresh, scary even, horror film.  It’s even more difficult to sculpt this new horror in the Christmas horror sub genre as many have tried and produced nothing but turkeys (sorry).  Enter Dick Maas directed of the unnerving and atmospheric Amsterdamned and his very European nightmare.

It's 1492 and St. Nicholas has held the city of Amsterdam in a state of terror. He is tracked to the canals by the locals and, while aboard his schooner, is torched. Since then when there is a full moon on  December 5th the city of Amsterdam is besieged by a vengeful Saint Nicholas. He roams on the back of his steed Amerigo with an army of Zwarte Piet or Black Petes.  Now hot on the trail of Sinterklaas is burnt out cop Goert (Bert Luppes) and accidental hero Frank (Egbert Jan Weeber).

What’s immediately refreshing about Saint is the fact that it’s not the “Santa Slasher” you are expecting.  Instead it focuses on a very European tradition around the celebration of Saint Nicholas’ birthday.  He is known as Sinterklaas, and is clearly the inspiration for the modern day Santa Claus which owes a great deal to Norsk stories told about Odin.  This immediately gives the film a greater richness in it’s narrative and grounds the audience in an ancient world that lauds superstitious, ritualistic practice over the scientific.  Saint introduces the idea that December 5th is a date of revenge for Nicholas and that rather than his death occurring in 343AD it actually took place more than a thousand years later and the Catholic church have reworked the legend of St. Nicholas in order to protect the reputation of the man and the church.  This is a very simple narrative device and it gives Maas (as writer) creative license over the known timeline while reinforcing the wealth of history that the tradition and the city of Amsterdam hold.

The cinematography of the film is excellent, almost perfect.  The starting sequence of Nicholas making his way through Amsterdam collecting the gifts of appeasement from the locals to their decision that lead to his murder is wonderfully rich.  The dark bleak earthy colours of the small town (Amsterdam) contrasted against the perfect white of the seasonal snowfall and the iconic red and gold trim robes of the man himself give the film’s opening sequence layer after layer of beauty.  In modern day Amsterdam the standard and quality of shot is similar.  The rooftop chase of Nicholas by the police cars is great.  The high angle framing of rooftop and street below creates a real depth of field that’s rarely showcased in horror and Maas’s understanding of the importance of editing in these types of sequences is marvelous as he stitches the audience into the film with shots of Amerigo darting between chimney tops while the uniform police track an all too familiar nemesis.  The beauty of this sequence allows you to forgive the CGI issues that exist with Nicholas and Amerigo.  The use of shadows and the close-up is wonderful but even better is Maas’ use of the wide shot.  When Frank bundles out of the back of the car and comes face to face with Amerigo there is a genuine level of tension, this is ramped up as Nicholas appears in the background of the shot which is again beautifully layered.

The make-up effects in the film are excellent.  Years of horror films can allow you to build up an immunity to the horrific but the make-up effects on Nicholas are excellent.  The scar tissue around his mouth, nose and cheeks look painful yet dead and the no man’s land around his eyes give him a terrifying supernatural feel that is much needed.  The make-up effects on the Black Petes is great too, they sit somewhere between The Fog, Pirates of the Caribbean and the make up effects of Jake Garber as they look dead, decomposing and yet like some kind of bony battle armour.

Huub Stapel is menacing as Nicholas. It’s one thing to be menacing as a heavily made up and half dead demon he has become, but even in the beginning he carries an atmosphere of fear with him.  He has the easiest, yet the most difficult role in the film.  As the Bogeyman of the film (French songs have Le Pere Fouettard who accompanied Nicholas and is synonymous with the Bogeyman) he has the least  character archs of the film and is therefore given an easier ride than the other performers.  However he has the pressure of living up to the idea of the character without appearing to 'ham it up', something which Robert Englund was wonderful at for the first couple of
Elm Street
films.  Stapel walks the path perfectly.  Luppes (as Goert) is great casting, he is always somewhere between burnt out and lunacy and if it wasn’t for the fact that the audience has seen Nicholas and therefore known he’s real you would have serious reservations about the mental status of the man who’s entire family have been taken from him.  The only criticism of this performance is that there isn’t another gear to the character as every moment is about revenge and though this is entirely understandable it short changes the character and leaves him a little more two dimensional than he needs to be.  Egbert Jan Weeber (as Frank) is a real revelation.  Having never encountered him before there was a degree of uncertainty about his ability to stand up and be the protagonist to Stapel’s antagonist.  He’s very much the accidental hero as he’s initially interested in nothing more than getting laid, this turns to survival which in turn transforms to the heroic ideology of saving the city.  He is brilliant, not only do you never doubt each change in gear as and when they are called upon but you don’t even see the joints so faultless is his performance.  Even in hero mode he still has the very human characteristic of preservation which warms him even more to the audience.  Weeber is an incredibly likeable performer and sells the moments of peril extremely well, so much so that (to my own pleasant surprise) there were moments that actually made me jump…which I’m so pleased about as I can’t remember the last time it happened.

There are a couple of small issues with the film, the narrative is a little simplistic but that’s only a minor issue and as seen with other horror films the more ingredients you put in the more you dilute the terror.  The score, though excellent, is a little manipulative in parts and lapses into the lazy gimmick of cranking the volume up for a cheap scare but the biggest problem with Saint is that it’s too short…though in classic horror fashion there’s always room for a sequel and with New York originally being named New Amsterdam there’s the possibility than Sinterklaas could hit Manhattan.  A possibility that thrills me right down to my Christmas balls.










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