THE LAPLACE’S DEMON **** Italy 2017 Dir: Giordano Giulivi. 105 mins
A unique and highly atmospheric riff on “old dark house” movies, in which a group of scientific researchers are invited by famous hermit Professor Cornelius – nicknamed “the crazy scientist” – to his remote island mansion, accessible via a lengthy elevator ascent. Cornelius himself is absent but, communicating via a pre-recorded message, outlines the night-long experiment from which the group cannot escape.
What follows pivots around the 18th century mathematician of the title, who considered that all living things operated like cogs in machinery, their actions therefore possible to predict and thus rendering freewill an illusion. Writer-director Giulivi gives it the look and feel of a bonafide 1930’s Gothic thriller, complete with beautifully sinister black and white cinematography, creaking doors, spinning coffins, sliding panels and perfectly timed thunderstorms. The dialogue is suitably melodramatic (“We are the guinea pigs!”) and the centrepiece is a perfect miniature of the mansion itself, complete with eight pawns mirroring the group and their actions. The performances are perfectly pitched as the increasingly paranoid ensemble learn of the demon lurking within the formula, and it works both on the level of a pastiche and as a one-of-a-kind chiller in its own right. Kudos to any movie that can build dramatic, suspenseful sequences from written formulae and a scene of an ambulatory black queen chess piece moving up a miniature staircase.
Review by Steven West