Review: BLOODY BALLET Dances Around As An Admirable Love Letter to Giallo
Argento, Bava, Fulci. These are some of the names that race to the forefront when one discusses Italian Giallo films. At their best and most popular during the 70’s and 80’s, these are motion pictures that are meant to easily double as magnificent and beautiful works of art, meant to be watched and discussed as such. Giallo films, despite some having very good stories and plots, generally are viewed as heavily favoring a masterful sense of style and zest over substance of story and characters, but all still hold some importance in the overall arch of the film. It takes a keen director and behind the scenes crew to balance these items to create the quintessential giallo film.
1977’s Suspiria is the one that immediately leaps to mind when I think of this genre. I am not the most well-versed individual when it comes to giallo, but I know a great living piece of art when I see one, and Suspiria is exactly that. The grand colors, beautiful sets, over the top music, and a general feeling of being lost in euphoric cinematic glee is what makes Suspiria, and any self-respecting Giallo flick. Director and co-writer Brett Mullen clearly has a love for the genre, and wanted to put his stamp on it and create a movie that harkens back to those glory days of beautiful murder. This is evident in his new Giallo-inspired film, Bloody Ballet, coming to VOD on November 13th. Can a movie made in 2018 properly deliver the goods that we come to expect from the typical well respected giallo film during its primetime of the 70’s/80’s?
After being found on a snowy road following the vicious (and still unsolved) murder of her parents, Adrian has been trying to get her life back together. Wracked with nightmarish visions and severe nightmares, and seeing a psychiatrist in an effort to cope, Adriana has still persevered and achieved becoming a ballet dancer, and has just been reward the lead in The Nutcracker. However, these visions and nightmares are now apparently coming to life, leading to colleagues at her ballet academy being hunted and killed by a masked individual. Can Adrian properly deal with all of these visions and fever dreams, in addition to the very real threat manifesting around her and causing mayhem, before it’s too late?
First off, it’s clearly obvious that director/writer Brett Mullen is a clear lover of all things giallo, definitely demonstrating a clear understanding of shot compositions, visual and audio details, and the overall sense of what makes giallo. Unfortunately, I believe Brett took the style over substance aspect a little too far, resulting in something akin to a series of beautiful vignette murder sequences interlaced with simply monotonous and boring dramatic sequences, with no inkling of a basic narrative structure to hang your hat on. Let’s start with the positives. The movie is littered with wonderful shots and scenes of rather striking beauty, beginning with the opening shot of a little girl on a dark snowy road and a cop car approaching, shot in slow motion to really make you feel the cold and desolation of the scene. This opening, complete with the somewhat bonkers opening credit sequence that literally changes the font, colors and even the music multiple times (and also running backwards, director’s name first then back to the actors), sets our expectations sky high.
The meat and potatoes of any good giallo film, the kill sequences, aren’t particularly inspiring in terms of locations used (living room, apartment, car), but are evocatively shot and beautifully lit, utilizing sharp and deep blues, reds, pinks and greens to really get that look and feel of a giallo flick. The gore that accompanies these scenes also get amped up as the movie progresses, starting off rather tame with a basic throat slit with copious blood to some extreme detail in how to remove and eye from a socket with a straight razor and effectively crushing someone’s ankle with your hand. Performances are also well done throughout, considering there isn’t much development for these actors to cling to.
Main lead Kendra Carelli is quite believable as Adriana, making us feel her plight. She has multiple instances of varying emotional scenes that need to be convincing, and she pulls it off. It was also nice to see genre vets Debbie Rochon and Caroline Williams show up as psychiatrist Dr. Cassinelli and head ballet teacher Ms. Valli, respectively. Unfortunately, this is where the positives stop and the decisions are made that grind this movie to a halt in multiple spots. Every scene outside of the beautiful contained scenes of gore are simply boring and innocuous, not bringing any real narrative structure to the proceedings to make care even a little about the fates of these people. I understand giallo films are usually thin on plot, but the great ones like Suspiria still have a mythos, an underlying theme and narrative flow that keeps us invested outside of the gory good stuff, and Bloody Ballet simply doesn’t have that.
Plot threads are different degrees of wasted. One thread that seemingly was going to set up conflict between Adriana and Elena, a dancer who has been the lead at this company for multiple years running, is forgotten about as quickly as it was brought up, wasting a great storyline thread that would have elevated the proceedings. Another scene that involves Dr. Cassinelli, consoling Adriana one night is out of left field, and never brought up again. It was weird to say the least. However, a separate running plot involving a journalist investigating an insane asylum, and experiencing visions of a particular ghost all around him, is simply boring and completely unnecessary, wasting valuable minutes that could be spent on more kills, developing the other dancers at the studio, etc. It could have been removed entirely, and really should have been. It has no place here. The music, while in parts is well done with slamming electro-synth beats and thumping tones, decided to throw in some weird Muzak-like pieces and jarring musical cues that simply drag the movie’s atmosphere into varying directions that weren’t needed. Also to note, the finale is more or less a letdown, arriving with a whimper and comes complete with an exposition-heavy narration that feels tacked on and wholly unnecessary.
So, in the end, does Bloody Ballet pay respectful homage to its forefathers of the genre and deliver as a great giallo film itself? Yes and no. While it does have the great and super moody murder sequences that we have come to love and respect from the genre, it forgets to maintain that atmosphere throughout the interconnecting sequences. The narrative is a mess of unceremoniously dropped or unconnected and needless story threads that drag down the picture quality overall, and leaves us with not much to ponder or discuss after its all over, outside of some gore shots. While I do recommend you check out Bloody Ballet, if only for the well done giallo-style murders, I wouldn’t say this is a great example of the genre and that should be considered before you start watching it. You will have fun with it, you just won’t have any lasting memories of it past perhaps an hour or two. Despite liking parts of it, it ends up being forgettable, and that is the real tragedy here – What could have been?