When we think of horror, what images come immediately to mind? For myself, I picture old manors hidden in the countryside away from anyone who would dare to look in. Ghosts occupy the manor’s corridors, roaming up and down the halls searching for the next victim to claim. And, the last element that stands out is that dark, sinister forces are at play. THE SONATA, the latest film from director Andrew Desmond, has all of these quintessential gothic horror elements in spade, evoking a feeling almost reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s works. While all of these elements come together to really make its impression on the viewer’s mind, there are a handful of issues that keep this film from truly reaching its true horror potential.
The film follows Rose (played by Freya Tingley), who discovers during a violin recording session that her father has passed. Her father, as we soon learn, is the once successful composer Richard Marlow (played by Rutger Hauer in his last role) who seemingly disappeared into seclusion and disappeared from Rose’s life almost as soon as she was born. Her agent Charles (played by Simon Abkarian) keeps the truth of her father’s death via suicide from her so as not to distract Rose from her deadlines on this album she’s working on. However, despite looming deadlines, Rose takes off to visit her deceased father’s manor to deal with his personal effects. This is where things begin to get really interesting.
While handling her father’s personal effects, both Rose and Charles discover that Marlow has left her his final work – a sonata. However, this sonata is peppered with strange symbols that honestly can’t mean anything good. Charles pushes Rose to figure out the symbols, with greed and fame clouding his judgment. Rose, however, knows that solving the riddle of the symbols and completing the song means something bad will happen. While Charles is clouded by his desire for success, Rose’s discoveries lead her to realize that something is horrendously wrong with the sonata. All of these discoveries lead to a climactic finale, pitting Rose against Charles as both will decide the fate of whether or not the sonata gets released into the world.
The plot is a bit safe and formulaic, with not too many surprises to really make the film stand out or change the dynamic of the horror movie landscape. However, that doesn’t mean that the film can be so easily dismissed. The idea of light versus dark, good versus evil, innocence versus impurity are overriding themes in the realm of storytelling and, just when you think you know how the story will end, there is a slight twist that makes it so you can’t help but wonder what happens once THE SONATA ends. However, what does make the film stand out in a rather unfortunate way is the more miss than hit CGI. While there are supernatural elements represented in the film, the CGI rendered to take on those elements is distracting. I’m not sure if it had to do with budgeting or a lack of familiarity with digital technology, but I think the film might have fared better without the CGI elements.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the score because, honestly, with a film called THE SONATA you need a decent score. Composer Alexis Maingaud completely knocks it out of the park and, once the film’s titular song comes together, it is really something that will force chills up and down your spine as you contemplate what will happen once the song ends. The composition of the film’s score also helps to create a balance between the darkness that is evoked onscreen with the cinematography, creating a further image of that Gothic horror that this film kept reminding me of.
Overall, THE SONATA is a film that is honestly quite perfect for the Halloween viewing season. While the film takes place primarily in a manor, the film is much more than a typical haunted ghost story. It is a tale of obsession and what we are willing to do and sacrifice in order to sate an obsession. While the story that unfolds is predictable and some of the CGI elements used are a wee bit more on the hokey-side, the film itself is beautiful as is the score. If you want something that doesn’t outright terrify you or have someone you want to introduce to the horror movie genre, this film may be the safest bet.
THE SONATA screened at this year’s FilmQuest Festival and there is a tentative US theatrical release set for 2020.