Don’t watch this expecting to find Hannibal Lecter at his most gruesome. No fava beans were harmed in the making of this subtitled art-house drama (although I’m pretty sure that a nice Chianti makes a guest appearance). Instead you’ll be mystified, perplexed and intermittently entranced by a slow-burn psychodrama, one which explores human isolation and the suggestion of redemption with subtly crafted performances and some grand-master moments of cinematography. You’ll either be holding your breath for most of the movie…
…or you’ll switch it off in five minutes and dash back to Dexter. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The setting is rural Spain, Granada. The small town’s tailor splits his time between his traditional workshop; his old-fashioned apartment, all white walls and tall shutters, and his remote mountainside cabin where he goes to seek peace and solitude. And to kill women. He butchers his victims with exquisite care and delicacy, brings the best cuts of meat home and pops them in the freezer. At home he only eats this meat, although we see him consuming a more normal lunch with his spinster seamstress. Everything in his life seems stable. Routine. Inexplicable – and the film doesn’t offer any enlightenment to the audience about how he came to be living such a psychotic existence – but in some kind of balance.
Then a new neighbour moves in, an attractive masseuse, who triggers a sequence of events. More death, inevitably, but also an opportunity for a connection with a more normal life when her naïve and vulnerable sister somehow penetrates the tailor’s emotional fortress of solitude.
The two central performances are bewitching: understated to the point almost of inaction at times. Matter of fact and undeniably creepy. The filming is picture-perfect at times: camera capturing still-life vignettes of natural splendour and crumbling architecture. There are instances of gripping tension – DON’T LOOK IN THE FRIDGE, DAMMIT! – amid a muted mosaic of everyday mundanity. The very genius of the film is that it makes an cannibal serial killer, just that: utterly mundane. And also utterly impenetrable.
There are a couple of stand-out sequences, not least the opening scene with its fabulous panning shot and starkly realistic snapshot of brutality. Perhaps the most revealing moment of the entire film comes between the tailor and his seamstress, however, in an apparently unremarkable conversation. She tells him he’ll never have a woman of his own, never marry, never love. He veers towards new territory, emotionally vulnerable, wonders if he could possibly change.
By the end of the film – when he takes his latest woman to the mountainside cabin, drugs her, strips her naked and lays her out on the butcher’s block – we know the answer to his question.
After watching Cannibal, I wasn’t entirely certain whether I’d enjoyed it. But it certainly made an impact.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Cannibal, certificate 15, is subtitled in English (dialogue in Spanish) and is available on DVD or to download at Amazon