The Crypt (2014)
Cast: Serge Riaboukine, Camelia Pintilie, Gabriel Spahiu
Director: Corneliu Gheorghita
Country: Romania | France
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the Transilvania International Film Festival. For more information visit http://tiff.ro/en and follow TIFF Romania on Twitter at @tiffromania.
It might take a degree in Franco-Romanian relations and theology to take much away from The Crypt, and even then you’d need to be reaching. This tonally temeritous offering from sophomore director Corneliu Gheorghita isn’t half the existential allegory it thinks itself, or even a quarter of the fun. Just on the strength of the imagery that opens the film that’s an almighty shame; with a helicopter dramatically descending over rural Romania to the tune of an ominous, otherworldly score, Gheorghita establishes nicely the aura of unease he’ll soon go on to squander. Perhaps the cordoned-off credit for producer Alexandru Iclozan suggests some commercially-minded interference; audience reaction suggests, if so, that it couldn’t be more off-base.
It would require a visionary engineer to orchestrate the suspension of disbelief this movie asks: TV writer Jean Samouillan’s script is a silly mess of off-the-wall intentions erupting from a calamitous conceit. That sees the French CEO of a real estate firm destroying archaeological evidence to save an expensive delay on the Romanian resort he’s renovating and, suddenly, he’s stuck behind a gate that only opens one way. Supernatural suggestions from the opening sequence and the ravaged icon itself are soon done away with in favour overwrought comedy rife with rudimentary symbolism: “it’s about what it really means to be free” the director proclaimed in advance of the screening; only in its holding us hostage does that ever prove true.
It would require a visionary engineer to orchestrate the suspension of disbelief this movie asks…
It’s some six local residents who stumble upon his plight, and it’s only a one of them has a rational reason not to set the poor soul free. Played for laughs it’s fatuous fair game, though the two separate scenes of outside entry that end in slapstick shenanigans—and, of course, no exit—stretch us so far we can’t but snap. Through it all, Gheorghita reliably turns his camera to the heavens, spying bright blue skies and circling birds as an image of freedom he just can’t get enough of. Most viewers can, though, and the seventeenth time he tips the lens upward is the sixteenth it seems too much. Heavy-handed is too soft a term for imagery as insistently officious as this.
Spiritual and fiscal overtones manage to hang heavy while weightless, and never does the class-conscious dialogue between parties either side of the gate seem anything but superficial. A nice cut from a butterfly close-up to the unwitting prisoner staring at himself in the mirror of an abandoned car suggests a self-awareness the movie doesn’t share; Gheorghita’s would-be existential atmosphere is heaped atop—and laboured in the last shot—like salt shaken on a meal before it’s been tasted. No surprise, then, that the film should be so unappetising; never terribly sure where it ought to go or how it might mean to get there, this is a rambling trifle of a movie that’s more effort to watch than it seems to have been to make.
Were it at all akin to the calibre of film Gheorghita seems keen to see it, he might have done well: there’s an appreciable ambiguity to his nocturnal scenes that play well with the sliver of light that reaches the setting from the otherwise unforgiving sky. But a survivalist symbol this situation is not, and the insistent efforts to render it so only serve to make the movie more belief-beggaring in its kookily crafted comic entrapment. Reliably rote to the last, The Crypt is a film that sets the eyes rolling back so far it ought to be classed a health hazard. Though at least in that case it spares the sight of all this nonsense.
Reliably rote to the last, The Crypt is a film that sets the eyes rolling back so far it ought to be classed a health hazard.