Joshua Reviews Guy Maddin’s Keyhole [SXSW 2012 Review]

Throughout his career, Guy Maddin has made some of the most viscerally odd, yet forward thinking pieces of art that the film world has to offer.   Be it his experimental Brand Upon The Brain  or his loving ode to his hometown, My Winnipeg, Maddin has always been a name synonymous with experimentation and surrealism.   It’s also been one that’s become synonymous with the absolute highest of quality.

That is why, since it was first announced, his newest feature film Keyhole has been one of the more discussed features to come out of the indie film scene in some time.   Featuring a bloody brilliant cast and one of the most bizarre teaser trailers in recent memory,  Keyhole  is best described as a brooding drama with tinges of gangster tropes, all in the guise of a neo-haunted house drama.   Honestly, it’s a tough film to try and describe, but it’s also one that’s impossible to turn away from.

Keyhole follows the story of a gangster, played by the out-of-his-mind entertaining Jason Patric (think of him here as the poor man’s Nicolas Cage), who one night returns to his humble abode, only to go on a mind bending journey through the house, room by room. Joined by Isabella Rossellini, Udo Kier, Kevin McDonald and a ton more, Patric and the entirety of ‘˜Keyhole’ may in fact be utterly absurd and a little bit of a confounding mess, but it’s also a beautifully made and insanely entertaining look into a man’s psyche, one compartment at a time.

Maddin is truly the film’s biggest star.   Structurally, the film is all over the place.   With tinges of classic film noir, the film blends this dark mood with a comedic sensibility found in these performances, all wrapped up in a standard haunted house configuration.   Maddin has a deft hand with each of these thematic players, and the sense of melancholy he is able to bleed out of the surrealism is a sight to be seen.   He also has a lot at work under the surface here.   Maddin melds together your run of the mill ‘son returning home’ narrative with a dreamlike addition of a drowned girl return to life and a son he doesn’t remember, only to have the film’s tone and themes completely take a left turn.   Not one for the straight and narrow, it is in these sudden left turns that Maddin truly thrives.

As they say, ‘it’s like Jazz. It’s about the notes you don’t hit.’

Visually, the film is a stunner.   Featuring visceral black and white cinematography, ‘˜Keyhole’ is really and truly unlike any film you’ve ever seen, except those from director Guy Maddin.   The film has grainy and unrefined touches reminiscent of films from like Jean Cocteau, while having a pace similar to that of a Neveldine/Taylor film.   Now, it’s not without its issues, though.

Clocking in at an hour and 45 minutes, the film feels far too long, and the film’s style, while really entertaining, does drain the viewer’s energy.   It feels slightly self indulgent, which isn’t saying anything new about a Guy Maddin film, but that’s only because it’s truly a valid proclamation.   An acquired taste, ‘˜Keyhole‘ and all of Maddin’s films for that matter, don’t offer much in the way of narrative resolution or anything resembling narrative catharsis, but what it does offer is a look into one of the most original voices and minds that the film world has to offer.   Self indulgent and ‘pretentious’ as it may be, ‘˜Keyhole’ is also a beautifully made look into a man returning to a world that he doesn’t remember.   Think of it as Maddin’s own declaration that cinema, his home for all intents and purposes, is not as it once was, so much so that he himself can’t even recognize it. Simply put, it’s one hell of a film, in spite of itself.