SAINT BERNARD *** USA / France 2013 Dir: Gabriel Bartalos. 97 mins
Best known as the artist behind the myriad of rubbery “freaks” in the BASKET CASE sequels, Gabe Bartalos returns with his second directorial effort (after SKINNED DEEP) – an abstract portrait of a classical composer’s (Jason Dugre) descent into madness. This episodic cinematic breakdown sports a free-wheeling, surrealistic structure, presenting snapshots of Bernard’s childhood and transforming ordinary family gatherings into uncomfortably intense nightmares. The imposing sound design and skewed camera angles keep us on edge even when the protagonist – who at one point has a dozen clocks strapped to his head – isn’t in apparent danger. The on-screen horrors are at their most effective when capturing everyday anxieties: notably Bernard exposed and vulnerable on stage as his stash of medication tumbles out of his pockets and his elders dismiss him as a disgrace. Cheerfully abandoning conventional narrative forms and a tad self-conscious in its Lynchian / William S Burroughs-inspired imagery at times, it may have worked better as a short but has plenty to hold your attention if you go with it. The combination of animation, animatronics, CGI and practical gore FX is often impressive and the rubber grotesquery with which Bartalos made his name is present and correct. A stand-out gore / sick comedy sequence sees a truck driver with no legs running over a woman’s legs…and pouring salt on her wounds. Dedicated to the late make-up artist Benoit Lestang and featuring diverting cameos from Warwick Davis (“Othello”) and the late George Clayton Johnson (“Father Time”), this also surprises with the occasional, disarmingly poetic image – especially the musical notes that float out of an open wound.
Review by Steven West