The Monk review

Moll is a gifted director who hasn't quite struck it lucky yet. Two of his previous movies that were shown in the UK, Harry, Here's Here to Help and Lemming, were moody and intriguing, generating a degree of suspense that ultimately failed to satisfy. He takes his time and one has to be patient with his work - but is it worth the effort? Debatable.
 
The Monk is a subtitled period piece, set in 17th century Madrid. The ever watchable Cassel is Ambrosio, a charismatic preacher, having been left on the monastery's doorstep at birth and then consequently brought up by the holy men. Thousands flock to his sermons and his religious passion is single-mindedly determined. He certainly shows no sympathy for a vulnerable young nun who has become pregnant, extolling that the punishment she will have to bear as a gift to God.
 
But who is new novitiate Valerio (Francois), always masked because of facial injuries, and what powerful affect does the new monk have on the popular priest? When Ambrosio is poisoned and then in recovery, is Valerio really an attractive girl that has sex with him? Or are these fiendish thoughts meant to test him? And why does he harbour a passion for virginal Antonia (Japy)? Why does he become fixated with this beautiful and innocent girl?
 
This is a dour drama, slowly paced with dark, gothic overtones. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. When it does however, it is most effective. Moll conjures a foreboding atmosphere that is persuasive and ethereal. But at the same time there are longeurs that bring tedium.  Moll has bitten off more than he can chew. It ends up a confusing effort, long winded and hollow, but along the way, there are singularly worthwhile sequences that resonate. Alternately arresting and boring, The Monk will either envelop you with its somber-minded devotion or make you sleepy with its pretensions. A nearly good movie to be sure, but not the full feast yet.

The Monk at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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