TIFF Review: Keyhole

Keyhole (2011, directed by Guy Maddin)

I love Guy Maddin. L-O-V-E love. A walk down Main Street love. An apple that's so sweet love. Maddin's highly specific, highly weird aesthetic is harmoniously sympatico with my own, and his fantasies have never failed to enchant and transport me.

Which is why this is one of the hardest reviews I've ever had to write, because Keyhole in a train wreck.

The plot is only a little more inscrutable than normal from Maddin. Ulysses Pick (played by a mostly somnambulant Jason Patric), a Prohibition-era gangster, has returned home with his mob after a long absence with the intention of reconciling with his wife Hyacinth, played by (of course) Isabella Rossellini. That's easier said than done though, as Ulysses' memories are fragmented, the house is haunted and every door is locked. As he makes his way laboriously through the house unlocking every door (both literal and figurative) his gang grows restless and odd dangers mount.

As a spin on the Odyssey, Keyhole contains all of Maddin's usual weirdness. What it doesn't contain is his usual humor or vitality. I don't know whether it was because he was shooting on DV instead of his beloved old-timey hand-cranked cameras, or because the script didn't really seem to know what to do with the source material, but the Maddin magic is almost completely lacking. The whole thing is just a sodden, turgid, dreary mess, and only occasional appearances by Udo Kier put any pep in its step at all. In previous films, Maddin would sense when things were getting too heavy and cut to a shot of people in ethnically stereotypical costumes sliding into a giant vat of beer, or toss in some ridiculous line about frisky reindeer, to remind you that his primary goal was still to entertain you. There are no giant vats of beer or frisky reindeer in Keyhole, and the moments that seem thrown in for that cathartic comic relief sink like a stone. There's even another Kid in the Hall in this one, but where Mark McKinney delivered a terrific performance in Saddest Music, Kevin McDonald is wasted here, barely getting three words in before becoming pure, and not terribly funny, physical shtick.

I wish I could point the finger at the score, which is just a heavy droning awful thing that never gives you a chance to swim to the surface, but I can't. The script isn't up to George Toles' usual standards, the editing is weak, the direction is unfocused... the whole thing is just a mess.

I'm praying this is just a blip, that it was just a troubled production on something that held Maddin back, and that he'll bounce back with his next film. The alternative explanation, that Maddin just entered the twilight of his career with a sickening thud, is too monstrously depressing to think about.

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