Thursday, January 13, 2011

Triskaidekaphilia: 13 Curses

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

The 2002 Spanish film 13 Curses is more accurately known as 13 Chimes (the literal translation of the title) or When the Bell Chimed 13 (the title that comes up on the DVD subtitles), but it was given a more eye-catching name for its U.S. DVD release, presumably to make it seem like a more ominous horror movie. I wouldn't call 13 Curses a horror movie, really, although it plays around with the supernatural and has some creepy moments. It's more of a psychological thriller and an intense character study, one that ends up with some disappointingly pedestrian explanations once everything is revealed.

Before that, though, it's got a nice unsettling vibe, especially thanks to Luis Tosar as an unhinged artist who, in the prologue, is murdered by his wife. Eighteen years later, his son Jacobo (Juan Diego Botto) returns from living abroad to find that his mother is alive (not dead as he was told) and institutionalized, and he goes back to his childhood home to pick up his father's long-abandoned final sculpture project. Jacobo is soon haunted and then possibly possessed by the ghost of his jealous, controlling father (played with intense menace by Tosar), and the middle of the movie, in which Jacobo struggles against his father's malevolent influence, is the most exciting and evocative part, with excellent use of inherently spooky old-world architecture.

Earlier, things get off to a slow start, and once director and co-writer Xavier Villaverde answers the question of whether Jacobo is really possessed or suffering from mental illness, the excitement of the mystery quickly fades. The movie opens with a wonderfully disturbing sequence of young Jacobo running and hiding in his father's cavernous art studio, full of hideous sculptures that seem to stare at him. At the end of the movie, we see this sequence again with all the events laid out as they happened, and the feeling of dread and evil is completely gone. Retitling 13 Curses may have been a misleading move, but a movie that actually lived up to that title would probably have been more interesting.

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