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'HOLY BEASTS' REVIEW: CINEMATIC DEAMS WITHIN DREAMS

Geraldine Chaplin offers a commanding performance in this sleek tropical thriller.

by Teo Bugbee

 

The meta thrillerHoly Beastsfollows a group of artists who gather in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to complete the unfinished project of their friend, the filmmaker Jean-Louis Jorge, who was murdered in 2000.

 

This is a sleek, intellectual homage within a homage, a fictional consideration of what it means to continue the legacy of a real artist who has been lost.

The story follows Vera (Geraldine Chaplin), a former star who has taken on the role of director. She is flanked by Victor (Jaime Pina), her potentially shady producer, and Henry (Udo Kier), her mysterious choreographer. On her set, Vera acts as the guardian of Jorge’s memory, the interlocutor for his ghostly presence. But Vera’s task becomes complicated as members of her cast turn up dead, and her tropical setting pushes the production toward catastrophe.

 

For inspiration, the characters watch clips of Jorge’s films. Through those excerpts, the directors, Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán, show how Jorge mixed kitsch and melodrama to create a vibrant cinematic style.

 

Elements of Jorge’s methods are visible here — the natural setting, the gaudy costumes, the beauty of young dancers — but the lens holds a different perspective. Here, the camera holds back, observing the drama in long, static takes filmed from a distance.

It is a credit to both the intelligence of the filmmakers and to Chaplin’s commanding performance that the movie effectively encourages its audience to consider the same questions that haunt Vera: Does this image capture the spirit that animated Jorge’s work? A theremin score weaves its way through the soundtrack, a spectral reminder that what sounds like a human voice might only be an electric facsimile.